Making a Difference

New Solar Home Initiative

        By: Rebecca Cantwell

Installing solar energy systems on new Colorado homes is creating jobs and helping homeowners save thousands on utility bills, industry and governmental leaders say.

 But home builders need a more predictable and consistent program  to plan for more widespread installation of   solar systems in new subdivisions.  Leaders announced  the launch of  a Colorado  New Solar Home initiative that would make it easier for builders to include solar options for all home buyers in new subdivisions.
"With new home construction finally back, including solar energy is a way to ensure long term energy savings for home buyers and good jobs across Colorado,'' said  John Bringenberg, vice president of the board of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.
Homeowners can save more than $40,000 over 30 years by reducing energy bills  50% with a standard rooftop solar system   on an efficient new home, COSEIA estimates.
"We are including solar on new homes because it makes good economic sense for the buyers and shows our commitment to reducing energy use,'' said Perry Cadman, Brookfield Residential executive.
They spoke at a model Brookfield Residential home in the Midtown neighborhood in unincorporated Adams County. The homes are equipped with Dow Solar Powerhouse shingles, and Dow and Brookfield announced the expansion of their partnership to  four communities in all four quadrants of metro Denver Wednesday.
"Our solar shingles are integrated with the roofing of a home so the best time to install them is when the home is being built,'' explained Taylor Henderson, Dow Solar executive. ``Each home owner can offset the carbon dioxide equivalent of 32 trees or 28 barrels of oil a year with these solar systems. And homeowners are getting checks back from the utility because they are saving so much electricity.'''
State Rep. Dominick Moreno, who represents the area,said solar leadership is good for Colorado. "In Adams County and across the state, we need to make it easier for rooftop solar to thrive,'' he said.
COSEIA announced Wednesday it is working to build support for a Colorado New Solar Home Initiative  which would:
   -      Provide a system in which solar reservations can be secured for a multiyear     housing development with consistent and predictable cost parameters.
      -   Acknowledge and encourage lower energy footprints in new homes as measured by low (better) HERS scores (Home Energy Rating System) by providing benefits tied to those low scores signifying greater efficiency.
      -   Reward new home buyers  for a portion of the  lifetime energy and environmental savings per home as a result of lower energy usage.      
      -   Encourage use of the Appraisal Institute's solar valuation tool in every appraisal.
Additionally, expansion of COSEIA's Solar Friendly Communities program which provides recognition for local governments that streamline solar permitting by cutting red tape provides a good tool for encouraging more solar development.  
Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison said his city pursued the recognition because solar is good for economic development and environmental sustainability. "We achieved the first platinum-level certification in the state and believe this recognition will provide many benefits for Westminster's citizens,'' Atchison said.  
Cadman said Brookfield seeks to deliver a product to consumers with lower (better)  HERS scores which he described as "an MPG sticker for housing. We've found solar makes the most economic sense as the best way to get a big drop in HERS scores.''
Already, more and more all-solar subdivisions are cropping up across Colorado. SolarCity, the state's biggest installer, entered Colorado's new home builder market two years ago.  Dennis Helblig, Solar City builder sales manager, explained, "We expect to have installed more than one Megawatt of solar on new Colorado homes by the end of the year. If we could get a consistent program, it would have a huge impact on the industry.''
COSEIA is working with lawmakers, policy experts, solar installers and others to develop the new homes program.

Kudos to Green Commercial Buildings

        By: USGBC

Want to check out the greenest commercial buildings in Colorado? The  U.S. Green Building Council Colorado Chapter has named a variety of commercial buildings as finalists in its first-ever Commercial Real Estate Green Awards. Finalists were selected by a jury of their peers. 

“From the latest technologies in sustainable construction to retrofitting historical landmarks, USGBC Colorado’s first annual Commercial Green Building Achievement Awards honor the built environments that are positioning the Centennial State as a mecca for innovative and healthy buildings,” remarked Sharon Alton, Executive Director, USGBC Colorado. “USGBC Colorado is thrilled to honor the best and the brightest in Colorado’s Green Building Community.” 


Commercial Real Estate Green Awards finalists:

· Exceptional Implementation of Sustainable Technologies

· Denver Museum of Nature and Science - Education and Collections Facility: The major sustainable features of this new addition include 50% energy cost and 62% energy use savings; and LEED-NC Platinum rating - 86 points (currently under construction review by GBCI). 

· Mile Hi Bakery: A retrofit of Miller-Coors’ former 125,000 sq. ft. distribution facility into a LEED Gold facility optimizing the bakery’s production systems, this facility produces nearly 65,000 hamburger buns per hour. Through implementation of leading-edge sustainable technologies, the Bakery saves 19% energy cost savings (a large percentage for a manufacturing facility).

· Rise to the Challenge: Most Accomplished Green Building

· Harlequin Plaza 500 kW Solar Project: This project underscored innovative strategies to overcome the myriad obstacles facing solar implementation on commercial office buildings.

· The Ivywild School is a reinvented community anchor achieved through transformation of an old 1900's school into a combined brewery, bakery, bicycle retail outlet, community meeting room, public radio recording studio, coffee shop/spirits lounge, and community garden. 

· Green Dealmakers: Most Sustainable Real Estate Company

· 2014 was Unico Properties LLC biggest green building year yet, with numerous industry?leading projects and pilots all of which highlight the company’s ability to simultaneously provide superior customer service, boutique knowledge, and high performance buildings. 

· Most Successful Community Engagement

· Curbside Cuisine: Colorado Springs Urban Intervention facilitated a re-use through collaboration with property owner YMCA, permitter City of Colorado Springs, utility Colorado Springs Utilities, and many other partners to establish an enhanced value, community benefit gathering spot to support small business, food entrepreneurs, and public art in a participatory, urban, and healthy project destination. 

· MSU Denver's SpringHill Suites by Marriott & Hospitality Learning Center: The public-private partnership between MSU Denver and Sage Hospitality is a 150-suite hotel, and metro Denver’s first LEED® Gold hotel. The hotel and HLC earned a total of 62 LEED® points for water efficiency, innovative design and sustainable site and materials selection. 

· Greenest Building of 2014 (New or Existing)

· The Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse: The US General Service Administration (GSA) set lofty high-performance energy goals for this project making it one of the first GSA historically registered projects to achieve LEED Platinum Certification and pursue an optimal goal of Net-Zero energy.

· 1660 Lincoln Deep Energy Retrofit: 1660 Lincoln's deep energy retrofit was an impressive project undertaken in a highly competitive downtown market while the building was occupied. The building's ENERGY STAR score increased from 26 to 87 ? a 61% improvement. And the site energy use intensity (EUI) dropped from 162 kBtu/SF to 89 kBtu/SF ? a 45% improvement.

· Alliance for Sustainable Colorado is a showcase project for DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge, is a founding member of Denver’s 2030 District, houses 30+ nonprofits working on sustainability issues, possesses an event center to bring in sustainability thought leaders from across the world, and aims to be Colorado’s Hub of Sustainability, growing and uniting the sustainability movement.

· Dominion Towers Tenant and common area space lighting upgraded providing more efficiency without the loss of usable lighting for office tasks. Typical floor load reduction is 50%, 18,564  kWh/year and a net dollar savings of $2,134 per year. 

· The Green Building Legacy Award

· Alliance for Sustainable Colorado is a showcase project for DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge, is a founding member of Denver’s 2030 District, houses 30+ nonprofits working on sustainability issues, possesses an event center to bring in sustainability thought leaders from across the world, and aims to be Colorado’s Hub of Sustainability, growing and uniting the sustainability movement.

· Denver Place had the honor of being the first Colorado building and the seventh in the country to earn the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Award (1999). Dozens of renovations contributed to designation of Colorado’s first LEED-EB Gold in 2004. It received a second LEED-EB Gold designation in 2010.

· The Golden Hill Office Center is one of the first commercial facilities that has served as an affirmation of many sustainable design concepts that are employed today.  While some upgrades have been made to the equipment of the evaporative cooling and hydronic heating systems, the complex is still performing at a high level more than 30 years after it was designed. In 2010, the complex achieved an ENERGY STAR rating of 99.

· Mental Health Center of Denver This 116,000 sq. ft. project was a major remodel of an existing building with Davis Partnership as the architect, with a commitment to achieve Platinum LEED certification. The project received a grant from Energy Outreach Colorado specifically benefiting low-income populations. The project achieved 36% energy cost savings relative to ASHRAE 90.1-2007. 





Charge a Car with your Solar Panels

        By: Suzanne Pletcher

Now you can size your rooftop solar system to allow for charging an electric car in Colorado's Xcel Energy territory. The utility  has expanded its Solar Rewards program to include the charging of electric vehicles from photovoltaic solar panels.  

An Xcel Energy customer who purchases an electric vehicle (EV) can now install a solar system large enough to cover the electricity demand for both home and vehicle use and receive incentives from the utility for doing so.

“The Solar Rewards program expansion opens up opportunities for homeowners to take advantage of clean solar power that enables nearly emissions-free driving,” said Will Toor, director of transportation programs for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP).  “It also helps customers to get very close to net zero energy use at home and on the road.”

Xcel’s Solar Rewards program currently offers incentives to customers for up to 120% of a home’s average annual electricity consumption, based upon the prior 12 months’ bills, or—for new construction—a calculation linked to square footage.  Until now, an electric vehicle owner would have to charge the car at home for a year in order to establish the extra demand for electricity.  With vehicle registration as proof of electric vehicle ownership, customers who wish to fuel their car with solar power can now simply add an additional 250kWh/month to their calculation. 

The company has said it supports the use and development of solar energy as well as the expansion of the electric vehicle market and plans to post information in the Solar Rewards FAQ section of its website.

“We are pleased that Xcel Energy has decided to expand the Solar Rewards program to include capacity for charging electric vehicles,’’ said Rebecca Cantwell, senior program director, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA).  “It benefits both the utility’s customers and the solar industry.”

The program expansion was made possible through Colorado legislation passed in 2012 to deregulate the sale of electricity and open up the marketplace to expand the state’s network of EV fueling stations.  HB 1258 was best known for allowing any entity to install and charge fees for use of electric vehicle charging stations without being regulated as a utility. But the bill’s language also specified that existing and planned electric vehicle charging stations would qualify for utility solar incentive programs. 

Xcel Energy’s expanded Solar Rewards program boosts the affordability of electric vehicles and supports new business models that lower the cost of combined purchases of electric vehicles and solar panels, said Toor. 

Namaste Solar in Boulder, Colo., announced last summer that it offers a discounted solar package for electric vehicle charging through its “Drive Green for Life” program.  Ford Motor Company offers a similar discounted solar package to those purchasing its electric Ford Focus.  Toor said auto dealers are considering financing options that package a new electric vehicle purchase with a charging station or solar panels. 

“The big picture benefit is reduced vehicle and power plant emissions that contribute to air pollution in congested Front Range cities,” said Toor. “Plus, Xcel’s customers who take advantage of the Solar Rewards program and power their vehicles from the sun will minimize fuel costs and save an average $1,000 annually or more.  Those savings are expected to boost discretionary spending in Colorado communities and benefit local economies.”

Already Colorado has acted to lower the cost of electric vehicle ownership.  Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law in May, 2013, that provides a state tax credit of up to $6,000 on new electric vehicle purchases, on top of a federal tax credit of up to $7,500.


Rural Coloradans Excited About More Renewable Energy

        By: SEL Staff

Opportunities for rural economic development and less pollution will spread across Colorado with the adoption of  a new measure that boosts the requirement for rural cooperatives to provide renewable energy .

"Increasing Colorado's renewable energy standards for rural electric co-ops offers rural Coloradans what they want: more solar, less pollution, more energy security and diversity, and more rural Colorado jobs," said Lou Villaire, co-owner of Atlasta Solar which has provided service to Grand Valley Power Coop members for 35 years.

The renewable energy bill SB 252, which won final legislative approval May 1, will also help clean up Colorado's air, make electricity more reliable, and safeguard the environment for the future.

"The passage of SB 252 shows that the Colorado state legislature understands the importance of continuing to develop our clean, local and affordable energy resources like solar and wind across the state. As the Governor also supports clean energy development, we hope he responds promptly and signs the bill into law," said Jeanne Bassett, Senior Associate with Environment Colorado.

The legislation will double the Renewable Energy Standard, from 10 percent to 20 percent for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the wholesale energy provider to most Colorado electric co-ops, and Intermountain Rural Electric Association, the largest distribution cooperative in the state.

By 2020, these large energy providers will be asked to come closer to the 30 percent Renewable Energy Standard that Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy are well on their way to meeting. The legislation includes the same 2 percent cap on rate increases applied to Xcel - a rate impact that, if realized, the Colorado Energy Office estimates would cost the average family about $2 a month.

Members of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association who live in co-op territory are enthusiastic about the positive impacts they foresee.

"As a resident and business owner within a co-op territory, I strongly feel that Senate Bill 252 would be a tremendous boost to the local economy,'' said Josh Fabian, President of solar installer Dynamic Integration, LLC in Montrose, an area served by Delta Montrose Electric Association. "Not only would companies like mine be able to work closer to their home office, leading to less consumption of fuel, lower overheard and increased efficiency, but we would also have the opportunity to hire and train additional installers who would be adding to the local economy.''

 "SB 252 is a common sense market- driven solution to making the grid more stable and diverse with more local renewable energy,'' said Derek Wadsworth of Durango SolarWorks, an installation company in southwest Colorado working primarily within La Plata Electric Association and Empire Electric Association co-op territories.

The bill is expected to create new opportunities for renewable energy businesses by increasing the Renewable Energy Standard. Additionally, the legislation will create opportunities in rural Colorado through the Distributed Generation carve-out. Under this bill, distribution cooperatives with more than 10,000 meters will have a carve-out of 1 percent of total retail electric sales, and smaller co-ops will have a 0.75 percent DG carve-out. 

"Reliable renewable energy like solar should be seriously considered in a variety of settings in rural Colorado,'' said  Zach Beamon, energy consultant for High Noon Solar. "This measure would help put dollars in rural Colorado and would really count in making solar more affordable for customers of the coops.'' Beamon works in territories of Grand Valley Power, Delta Montrose Electric Association, and Holy Cross Electric Association.

``Many of my clients are waiting to see if this bill will move forward before starting installation,'' said Wadsworth. "SolarWorks will be hiring at least 4-6 installers and a couple administration positions if these projects move forward-- not to mention all the other trades we will subcontract work to such as excavation, concrete, and major electrical work.''

Fabian, whose company also works in territories of San Miguel and Grand Valley coops, agrees that the indirect effects of a thriving renewable energy industry are also important. ``Everyone from the local company that does our placard engraving, the local mechanic that services our trucks, the local office supply company, local hardware stores and electrical suppliers-- all of these community minded businesses would inevitably see an increase of revenue from the adoption of Senate Bill 252,'' he said. "I believe that renewable energy is our future and that there is no better time to be striving toward that future than this moment.''  

Senate Bill 252 was sponsored by Senate President John Morse and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, along with Senator Gail Schwartz and Representative Crisanta Duran. It is headed to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.

"Rural Coloradans have already voted, and we have voted for more solar,'' said Villaire. "Requiring Colorado rural Electric Co-ops to generate more electricity from solar at a minimal cost is not a hardship but rather an opportunity to increase jobs, reduce pollution, and lower electricity bills over the long-term for rural Colorado coop members."

Natural ways to combat chronic stress

        By: Mary O'Brien

     Over the past few weeks and months, I have been seeing the negative effects of chronic stress in more and more of my friends and acquaintances.  The physical demands of long term stress is taking a toll on their health, causing symptoms from high blood pressure and heart palpitations to more serious conditions like adrenal exhaustion.  I find this both sad and alarming and I worry for our future generations.  

     The sad part is that there are so many foods, plants, and natural techniques available to us to help us stay strong, maintain a healthy nervous system and counteract the negative effects of long term stress. 


     Stress has been defined as "the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it."  There are, therefore, no stressful situations, only stressful reactions.  We create our own stress through our interpretations of the circumstances around us.

     Regardless of what causes the stress response, our bodies respond in a similar pattern.  The "fight or flight" response is the autonomic nervous system preparing our body to fight or run in response to dangerous situations.  Since modern society rarely requires us to respond in the same manner, we are left with the resulting buildup in our body of chemicals that are no longer useful.

     With continued stress, the adrenal glands, immune and cardiovascular systems becomes exhausted from being in a constant state of arousal.  Finally, when the body's nutrient and energy reserves become depleted, the body or specific organs go into a state of exhaustion resulting in chronic fatigue, inability to cope with stress and eventually diseases.

     Stress is a natural part of living and we can't avoid it.  What we can do is learn how to strengthen our body's ability to adapt to it.  The nervous system is our link to the environment.   It controls the feedback mechanism that receives, interprets and responds to stimulus and regulates our body’s response.  To maintain optimum health and prevent the negative effects of stress in our bodies, it is vital to maintain the health of the nervous system.



     Deep diaphragmatic (belly) breathing through the nose can lower the body’s overall stress response threshold so when stressful events do occur, the physical response is lessened.  Watch how a baby breathes using its belly.  We lose that natural instinct and tend to breathe shallowly in the upper lungs which keep our bodies in the stress response.  Learn to breathe deeply, do it frequently during the day, every hour take 5-10 deep breaths.  Deep breathe when you are in your car, standing in lines, anywhere where stressors are triggers and especially prior to and during stressful events.  It is a simple technique, easy to incorporate and very powerful.


     Our bodies have a built in mechanism to turn off the stress response called the Relaxation Response, a state of deep calmness that is the polar opposite of the stress response.  Just 10 minutes a day can lower blood pressure, turn off stress chemicals and increase a sense of calm and tranquility.  It is a 6-step meditation-like exercise that is easy to learn.  A search on the Internet will show you many sites with the instructions.

     There are other natural techniques for reducing the stress response that should become a regular part of a healthy lifestyle, including meditation, yoga, tai chi, progressive relaxation and visual imagery.  Each individual can find what works.  The important part is that it is done on a regular basis, approximately 20 minutes, at least 3 to 4 times per week. 


     Your food can be your medicine.  Our diet can play the most important role in whether or not we are stress hardy.  The body requires large amounts of nutrients during times of stress.  A diet that emphasizes nutrient rich whole foods like fruits, vegetables and beans and grains will provide the nutrients necessary to keep the immune and nervous systems strong.  

     Calcium and B vitamins are necessary for healthy nervous system functioning.  There are many foods that provide easily digestible sources of calcium.  Dark green leafy vegetables including spinach, chard, broccoli, kale, beet and turnip greens and parsley, almonds, sesame seeds, seaweed, yogurt and other cultured milk products should be a regular part the diet.


     Don’t wait until you are sick to use  plants as healers. The best way to cure illness is to prevent it.  All of the plants listed can be grown in your own garden or as potted plants.  There is an additional healing energy and stress relief that is created when you spend time in nature and with the plants that you grow,  harvest and utilize.


Lavender plats

     Many herbal remedies can help diminish or even eliminate a number of the effects of stress.  Some of these herbs are best for physical complaints and others address the psychological problems introduced by stress.  You can eat many of these herbs with your food, fresh or dried in soups, stews, salads, stir fries, etc.  Others are better consumed as teas, extracts or capsules.  Using them in relaxing baths is wonderful.  Just smelling the aromatic plants is healing.

Symptom                          Herbal Remedy

Anxiety                             St. John's wort, Skullcap, Lemon Balm, Lavender,


Depression                       St. John's wort, Lavender, Rosemary, Hyssop

Headaches                       Skullcap, Feverfew, Willow Bark

Muscle Aches Cramp         Bark, Valerian, Chamomile 

Sleep Disorders                Passionflower, Skullcap, Valerian, Hops, 

Nervous Stomach             Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Fennel, Dill, Spearmint

Sedatives to relax            California poppy, St. John’s wort, Catnip,

                                           Valerian, Lemon balm, Hops, Skullcap                                                                                                          


Lavender plats

     There are many nutritive and tonic herbs that can and should be used daily to strengthen and maintain a healthy nervous system.  These herbs feed, tone and strengthen nerve tissue and provide essential nutrients like calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and protein: oats and oatstraw, nettle, skullcap, chamomile, hops, lemon balm, valerian and vervain.  Many “weeds” are very rich in vital nutrients and should be included in your healing diet: dandelion greens, chickweed, amaranth, mustard greens, and watercress.

     Essential oils and Flower essences are two other plant based remedies that can be very effective in decreasing the stress response. They are available at any health food store and worth learning about and incorporating.



Get enough sleep.

Get regular exercise.

Be in nature even if it is just to walk outside and appreciate a tree, the sky or stars.  Nature heals!!

Take time for yourself. At least 20 minutes every day, treat yourself to an activity that you enjoy. Use visualization and affirmations. Imagining yourself relaxed, calm, and in control can help you work through your stress.

Add laughter to your daily routine.

Take control of your environment.  Change situations and avoid places that “make you crazy”.  Turn off the TV news, drive on less-traveled routes to avoid traffic stress, shop on-line to avoid busy malls. 

Learn to say “no”.  Know your limits and stick to them.  Taking on more than you can handle will definitely up your stress levels.

Avoid people that stress you out and drain your energy.

Learn to forgive.  Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments.

Listen to your body.  It sends us warning signs.  Don’t ignore them.  Be proactive and take responsibility for your health.  Being aware of personal stressors allows us to fine tune our responses.

Community, community, community.  If we are going to create a better world, we need to connect and share our skills and knowledge, we also need to use the knowledge and skills of others.  Every community has gardeners, herbalists, natural healers and elders.  Seek them out, use their wisdom.  Know that you are not alone and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.


     Studies show that one's personality and attitude have a lot to do with how much a person is affected by stress.  Those with high levels of the "three C's" of commitment, control and challenge remain in good health even when exposed to high levels of stress

Committed people have a deep commitment to their work and personal relationships, which gives them meaning, direction and excitement.

Those who feel they can control problems either through their actions or through their attitudes have a higher sense of well-being and lower stress levels.

Challenge is the welcoming of change, seeing change as an inevitable part of life and as a challenge or opportunity for growth instead of a threat.

     All of our attitudes are developed in the right side of the brain. We can teach the right brain new attitudes by becoming aware of the stressors in our lives and our habitual ways of responding to them and developing new responses  If we combine an optimistic outlook with optimal nutrition, regular exercise and relaxation practices, we can create a powerful combination to combat the negative effects of stress.


     Don’t create more stress by trying to incorporate all of these techniques at once.  Look at your lifestyle and see where you can incorporate some change.  Start out simply, even if you try only one of these recommendations, but start now.  Look to your kitchen, garden, local environment, nature, and community and even the internet for options, ideas and information.  You don’t have to go far and It gets easier after making that first commitment.

     Reconnecting to Mother Earth can be very valuable in staying healthy.  Time sitting under a tree, growing a plant or a garden, walking outside, anyway you can find to quiet the mind and connect to nature lowers the stress response, clears the mind and can open the heart to a more balanced way of living.

     One of the ethics of Permaculture is “Care of People” by “supporting and helping each other to change to ways of living that do not harm ourselves or the planet, and to develop healthy societies.”  Built into that ethic is the importance of caring for ourselves first so we can have the energy and stamina to take care of others.  Living a sustainable, self-sufficient and resilient lifestyle is more than growing our own food and living consciously on this earth.  It is also about using the plants we grow as our medicine, connecting to the natural world and its healing powers, honoring and developing our body’s innate healing abilities and learning about and using resources available in our local communities.  

Mary O’Brien is an herbalist specializing in using bioregional plants and is certified in Permaculture design.  She teaches both herbal medicine and Permaculture throughout Colorado.  She can be contacted at

$20 Billion windfall projected through more energy efficiency

        By: Suzanne Pletcher

     Utility programs that save energy could create an economic windfall of $20 billion for six southwestern states, according to a new study. Every dollar invested in energy efficiency programs returns more than two dollars in savings on business and household utility bills, it estimates.

     The study, The $20 Billion Bonanza: Best Practice Utility Energy Efficiency Programs and Their Benefits for the Southwest, was released  by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project based in Colorado.  It is available along with state-by-state findings at

Energy Efficiency in the Southwest Region

     “By scaling up energy efficiency programs, utilities in the region can avoid spending tens of billions of dollars constructing and operating power plants,” said Howard Geller, executive director of SWEEP and principal author of the report.  “Helping households and businesses save energy is the lowest cost, cleanest and least risky resource available to utilities today. All utilities should implement Best Practice efficiency programs.” 

     These programs would educate consumers, offer technical assistance, and provide financial incentives. They include programs such as weatherizing homes for low-income residents, providing incentives to spur more sales of ENERGY STAR products, encouraging recycling of inefficient refrigerators and freezers, and providing rebates for retrofits of single family and multi-family homes to reduce energy use.

     Geller noted the study found that 28,000 new jobs would be created regionally by 2020 if all utilities in the region implement such programs and measures. 

Residential Electric Savings in Colorado     The report finds that it is feasible to achieve a 21% reduction in electricity by the year 2020 from energy efficiency programs implemented 2010-2020.  Reaching this target would save the equivalent of electricity used by 4.6 million typical households in the southwest and require an investment of $17 billion.  The investment would be split between utilities and their customers and yield a resulting savings on energy purchases along with public health benefits of $37 billion—or a net savings of $20 billion, the study concluded. 

     “Beyond the financial return, there are other major benefits of saving energy,” said Geller.  “One of the biggest is that utilities can retire older, dirtier power plants without compromising their ability to provide safe, dependable power to customers.  Closing old plants improves public health by significantly reducing air pollution.” 

     Other benefits he cited if utilities implement Best Practice efficiency programs:

Avoid or close 32 large power plants in the region

Reduce CO2 emissions from power plants equivalent to taking 6.2 million passenger vehicles off the road by 2020.

Save 18.5 billion gallons of water per year by 2020 through less power plant operation

     The report identifies the most effective utility energy efficiency programs across the country and analyzes the costs and benefits of implementing these programs in the southwestern states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.  The report includes descriptions of the programs, state-by-state analysis, and a roadmap that policymakers can follow to achieve the 21% energy savings goal and benefits by 2020.

     In Colorado, the recommended programs could create an economic windfall of $4.8 billion. Geller said that 7,000 new jobs would be created in Colorado by 2020 if all utilities serving the state fully implement such programs and measures. 

    Energy Efficiency in Colorado

     “Policy reform is critical to realizing the $20 billion bonanza,” Geller said. 

     The report notes that utilities in the Southwest have made considerable progress in helping their customers save electricity. But it also urges further action—from adopting energy savings goals or requirements to allowing utilities to earn a profit when they implement effective energy efficiency programs for their customers.

     The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project is a public policy organization that promotes greater energy efficiency in the southwest.  For more information:

     The study is available along with state-by-state findings at

More MPG=More jobs, less pollution

     In the midst of a contentious season, the Obama Administration’s final rules for cleaner cars mark a major victory for the environment, won with old foes joining forces. Average cars will be required to have nearly double the current average fuel efficiency by 2025, reaching 54.5 mpg and cutting their carbon pollution in half.

 Ford Hydrogen Cell Hybrid car     The Sierra Club estimates that the new rules will reduce climate pollution by nearly 10 percent of our current output in 2030, the equivalent of shutting down 140 coal plants. 

     The Obama Administration worked out the standards in collaboration with automakers, auto workers and environmental groups along with lawmakers and other interested stakeholders. 

Image courtesy of NREL

     A report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy(ACEEE) and the BlueGreen Alliance predicts the standards will create 570,000 new jobs by 2030, including 50,000 jobs in auto manufacturing. The Alliance released state- by- state figures when the rules were finalized August 28, predicting they will mean 8,500 new jobs in Colorado by 2030.

     According to ACEEE, “The agencies estimate that the average vehicle will cost about $2,000 more due to the additional technology required to reach the higher fuel economy levels. Savings from reduced fuel consumption will pay back these extra costs in less than four years, however. Buyers financing new vehicles over five years typically will realize a reduction in ownership costs, due to fuel savings greater than the increment in loan payment, starting at the time of purchase.’’

Toyota Hydrogen Cell Hybrid car     While the projections for the average fuel economy increase include more hybrids and electric cars, improvements to conventional vehicles will make the biggest contribution to savings. 

Image courtesy of NREL

     The majority will likely gain turbocharged, direct injection engines and 8-speed automatic and dual-clutch transmissions, while becoming substantially lighter, according to ACEEE. “Neither horsepower nor size of vehicles is expected to change. Fuel economy targets now vary with vehicle “footprint”—the area defined by the wheels’ contact points with the ground—and provide no advantage to a manufacturer that downsizes its vehicles to raise fuel economy. ‘’

     Some auto suppliers cheered the opportunities that the rules will provide to improve technology. “Automakers are looking for solutions that provide better fuel economy and reduce emissions while maintaining performance,” said Erika Nielsen, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at BorgWarner, a global auto supplier headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan. “That means new opportunities for our company, because our turbochargers, variable cam timing, dual clutch transmission modules and other powertrain technologies can help provide cleaner vehicles while maintaining or improving performance.”

     Peter Lehner of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote, “In total, the new fuel efficiency standards, when combined with the first phase of higher standards implemented in 2012, will put $1.7 trillion back into consumers' pockets over the life of the program.

 Solar Cell Hybrid car     "We're already seeing results from the first phase of improved fuel efficiency standards issued under this administration, and their benefits have exceeded expectations,’’ Lehner wrote.  "In the three years since the standards were announced, automakers have doubled the number of gas-sipping models on the market, according to automotive analysts Baum & Associates, giving car buyers twice as many fuel efficient cars to choose from.’’

Image courtesy of NREL


Reducing Energy Demand: Colorado's efficiency programs save money and energy

        By: Suzanne Pletcher

     Two major Colorado utilities have invested $166 million in efficiency programs for business and residential customers in the five years since a law outlined the framework for the program.
     And customers that benefit think the programs have been a good investment.  Gene Tang, the owner of 1515 Restaurant in Denver, says utility rebates lowered his cost to $3,000 on the purchase of a new high-efficiency air conditioner and furnace for the restaurant.  Plus, he saves $1,500 annually on utility bills.
  Mr Tang business owner of 1515 Restaurant

     Thousands of Colorado businesses and homeowners have stories similar to Gene’s, and collectively they will save a total of $640 million through lower utility bills as a result of the utility “demand side management’’ programs. Energy efficiency building contractors, product manufacturers and vendors who are members of the Energy Efficiency Business Coalition now employ 1,000 workers in Colorado due to increased demand by people like Tang for energy-efficient products and services after the law  was enacted.

                                                 Energy efficiency at work at 1515 Restaurant, Denver:  New overhead lighting and air conditioning reduced small business utility bills by 20% or $1,500 per year.  L to r:  Tom Herrod, Better Buildings manager with Denver Energy Challenge; Gene Tang, owner of 1515 Restaurant in Denver; and Howard Geller, executive director of Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. 

     “Energy efficiency is the quiet champion of the New Energy Economy,” said Howard Geller, executive director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP).  “People tend to picture wind turbines and fields of solar panels, but the simple actions of hundreds of thousands of homeowners and businesses changing out lights bulbs, upgrading appliances and air conditioning equipment and the like has yielded the cleanest, most cost-effective supply of energy today.”  Geller works closely with utilities and regulators to develop energy efficiency policies and programs that are economically and environmentally sound.

    The law, HB 07-1037 directed the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to develop energy efficiency goals and incentives for the state’s two  investor-owned utilities, Xcel Energy Inc. and Black Hills Energy Corporation.

    Not only did the utilities  recover their collective $166 million investment in energy efficiency programs under terms of the law, but they were awarded an additional $45 million in incentives for exceeding goals for cost-effectiveness and energy savings achieved.  In addition, the utilities saved enough electricity to power 100,000 houses for a year, according to their reports to the utilities commission.

    Through efficiency, the utilities also found a way to get closer to their customers by offering technical assistance, rebates and other services.  The utilities work as partners with communities and businesses on outreach, training, energy audits and rebates that help the utilities reach their goals for energy savings while helping customers save energy and money on utility bills.  

     “Through our demand-side management programs, Xcel Energy has been a partner in helping our residential customers reduce their bills – and in helping businesses large and small improve their bottom line and thrive. The energy efficiency programs we have offered to our customers have saved the equivalent of about one midsized power plant,” said Jay Herrmann, Xcel Energy vice president of marketing. “These programs also have been a part of Xcel Energy’s overall strategy to reduce our emissions, and thereby reduced our customers’ cost and risk associated with ever-tightening environmental regulations.”
     Besides economics, a goal of HB-1037 was to curtail hazardous air pollutants and help protect Colorado’s environment.  SWEEP estimates that Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy avoided more than one million tons of carbon dioxide emissions during 2009-2011 as a result of their energy efficiency programs, said Geller.  That is the equivalent of taking 110,000 cars off the road.

 Rep. Claire Levy   










Colorado state representative Claire Levy receives recognition for the success of HB 1037.  L to R:
Howard Geller of Southwest Energy Efficiency Project helped draft the bill; Danny Katz, director of CoPIRG; Rep. Claire Levy; and Jeanne Basset, director of Environment Colorado.


“House Bill 1037 has fostered an explosion of energy efficiency renovations that have reduced demand for heat and power beyond what I hoped to achieve,”  said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Claire Levy.  “We aren't finished fostering energy efficiency work.  There is still a lot of wasted energy and money to be saved.  But House Bill 1037 has shown what can be accomplished if we create the right rewards.”

     Joan Fitz-Gerald, former president of the Colorado senate and the sponsor of HB-1037, said, “I was proud to sponsor a bill that created a more sustainable approach to energy consumption while saving consumers’ money.   Demand side management will ultimately allow us to improve the quality of life and health of our citizens even as the state population grows in years to come.”

     In 2011, the utilities commission dangled a new carrot in front of Xcel Energy by raising the electric energy saving goals by 30%.  As a result, expect more programs to be unveiled by utilities and more savings for consumers and businesses.

Energy Efficient Home    Levy is talking about a new law that will provide utility energy efficiency programs to the 40% of Coloradoans that are served by small municipal utilities or rural cooperatives that are not affected by HB 1037.  With some exceptions, customers of those utilities still do not have access to robust energy efficiency audits, rebates and other services.


Suzanne Pletcher is the communications director for SWEEP.

  • House Bill 07-1037, passed by the legislature in 2007, directed the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to establish energy savings goals for investor-owned electric and gas utilities. The bill also directed the PUC to provide utilities with the opportunity to earn a profit from implementing cost-effective energy efficiency programs for their customers.
  • The Colorado PUC established energy savings goals and a performance-based incentive mechanism for Xcel Energy in 2008 and for Black Hills Energy in 2009. The PUC also established rules guiding energy efficiency programs by investor-owned gas utilities.
  • The table below shows the amount of energy savings, peak demand reduction and net economic benefits as a result of electric efficiency programs implemented by Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy during 2009-2011. In total, the two utilities spent $166 million on energy efficiency and load management programs for their customers during this period, far more than was spent the previous three years. Xcel now spends about 3% of its revenues on energy efficiency programs for its customers.*
  • In 2011, the PUC raised the energy savings goals it had previously set for Xcel Energy during 2012-2020 by 30%. As a result, Xcel is continuing to expand its energy efficiency programs. If Xcel achieves the goals set through 2020, electricity use as of 2020 will be reduced by about 4 billion kWh per year—equivalent to 14% of the total electricity consumption by Xcel’s customers today.  
  • Gas utilities in the state also scaled up their energy efficiency programs as a result of HB 1037. Households and businesses cut their natural gas use by about 1.4 billion cubic feet in 2011, equivalent to the natural gas use of 25,000 typical households, as a result of gas utility efficiency programs implemented during 2009-2011. These programs are expected to save consumers about $39 million net.
  • HB 1037 is yielding environmental benefits in addition to economic benefits. Xcel Energy and Black Hills avoided over one million tons of carbon dioxide emissions during 2009-2011 as a result of their energy efficiency programs, assuming that half of the energy savings reduces operation of coal-fired power plants and half reduces operation of gas-fired power plants. This is equivalent to taking 110,000 cars off the road.
  •      Among their energy efficiency programs, Xcel Energy and other utilities provide incentives for energy and water-saving devices such as low-flow showerheads and resource-efficient clothes washers. Water savings also occur when utilities reduce electricity generation and operation of power plant cooling systems as a result of energy efficiency improvements. In total, the energy efficiency programs enabled by HB 1037 reduced water consumption by around 1.5 billion gallons in 2011, equivalent to the water use of 11,500 typical households in the metro Denver area.House Bill 1037

*Utility data is from annual Demand Side Management reports that were submitted by utilities to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Sci-Fi no longer, NREL engineers Smart Homes

        By: Heather Lammers

     Thanks to TV shows such as The Jetsons and Star Trek, many Americans grew up dreaming that homes of the future would be equipped with fantastic high-tech features. From automatic food dispensers to sliding doors, to Rosie the Robot doing the household chores, the imagined homes of the future seemed to be driven by an unlimited supply of energy.

     Research engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have a different vision for the home of the future. The team is working on a "smart" home that will communicate with the electricity grid to know when power is cheap, tell appliances when to turn on or off, and even know when renewable energy resources are available to offset peak demand.

The Automated Home Energy Management Laboratory, housed in the Thermal Test Facility on NREL's main campus, incorporates all major and minor residential energy loads into a robust test bed that supports the evaluation of any type of residential automation, sensor, or energy management product in a realistic context.
Credit: Dennis Schroede

     NREL is leveraging two laboratories to make its dream home a reality — the soon-to-be-built Smart Power Laboratory, which is part of the new Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), and the Automated Home Energy Management Laboratory.

Smart Power for the Next Generation

     NREL's 5,300-square-foot Smart Power Laboratory will focus on two key areas: the development and testing of power electronics systems and controls, and the implementation of newer control approaches for smart energy management devices and systems. The lab will feature three power electronics test bays with sound abatement walls and a 96-square-foot walk-in fume hood for testing early prototype systems that have a higher risk of failure. There will also be four smart grid test bays capable of testing a variety of household appliances and systems.

     "A part of our research in the Smart Power Laboratory will focus on the integration of distributed energy resources using power electronics; we want to develop a new generation of power electronics systems that will provide advanced functionalities to consumers and utilities, and lead to more efficient integration of renewable energy into the smarter electric grid," NREL Senior Research Engineer Sudipta Chakraborty said. "The present work being done at NREL is on a smaller scale because we are constrained by the size and infrastructure of our current lab. The lab in ESIF will greatly enhance our ability to develop and test bigger power electronics systems."

     The Smart Power Laboratory will allow NREL to perform equipment testing for industry. For example, if a manufacturer builds a new inverter, it can be tested and validated at NREL before the manufacturer takes the system for certification. This will greatly reduce the risk of failure for the manufacturer during the certification testing.

     "We've found that a large number of manufacturers don't have all of the necessary equipment to do the required testing — like having a grid simulator to see how their inverter behaves if there is a disturbance in the grid frequency," Chakraborty said. "ESIF will have equipment that can test this type of power electronics system, and thanks to our large grid simulators, load banks, and DC sources, connected through the Research Electrical Distribution Bus (REDB), we can be a test bed for even bigger inverters — which is the current trend in the market."

     In addition to the power electronics research, the Smart Power Laboratory's smart grid test bays will be used to develop newer grid-monitoring equipment and to test smart appliances and home automation, energy management, and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The hardware-in-the-loop system and the capability of real-time control of the megawatt-scale power equipment will enable NREL to simulate integrated system responses such as household loads and generation as seen by the utility, and will ultimately lead to the development of better energy management algorithms.

     "People are really looking at the whole integration of these energy systems," Chakraborty said. "At the residential level, you'll have your house with a photovoltaic system on the roof, with smart appliances inside, and we'll look at the data to see how those systems work together. The utility companies are interested in seeing how they can control those appliances to offset loads and make the peak power demands more stable. To do that, all of these pieces have to work together, which they don't do today."

The Home of the Future
NREL engineers Sudipta Chakraborty and Bill Kramer examine the design of the power block at an NREL lab. Along with an industrial partner      To help figure out how those pieces must work together inside a home, NREL has built the Automated Home Energy Management (AHEM) Laboratory as part of NREL's advanced residential buildings research.

NREL engineers Sudipta Chakraborty and Bill Kramer examine the design of the power block at an NREL lab. Along with an industrial partner, NREL engineers have developed the power block for renewable and distributed energy applications.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder

     We are very cognizant of the fact that every home is part of a larger energy system," NREL Senior Engineer Dane Christensen said. "We've modeled the AHEM Lab around a real home, with the same plugs, panels, and appliances. The idea is that eventually our appliances and homes are going to be able to 'talk' to the grid. We are trying to figure out how demands from the grid and the dynamics of residential energy can be coordinated."

     NREL researchers have found that power is viewed differently from either side of the grid. The homeowner sees that power is always available, at a uniform cost, so there is little motivation to save power during high-demand times and then use power later when it is less constrained. Currently, it doesn't matter to homeowners if they use a clothes dryer while they bake a cake, watch TV, and have all the lights turned on in their house. But, for the grid, that kind of behavior has a huge impact, especially during summer months when air-conditioning is added to the demand mix. Today, utilities have no way to mitigate that power consumption; they simply have to generate and deliver more power.

     "There has to be something in the home to receive communications about energy availability and use built-in intelligence to act on it — especially when people aren't home to do it," Christensen said. "Just like in cars, you have systems that will automatically brake for you, or protect you. In the home, the only thing automated right now is probably your thermostat."

     According to Christensen, the goal is to have communications coming into the home from the utility that include pricing, requests to conserve energy, and rebates to homeowners who can act quickly to reduce power when needed. Conversely, the power company could also send a signal letting homes know that it is OK to go ahead and do laundry while cooking dinner, because there is more power available.

     "We're working on building systems for homes that can take the information from the utility, along with input from the homeowner, and manage the home's energy to satisfy both the homeowner and the utility," Christensen added. "The homeowner will still be in control, with built-in overrides and the ability to change settings. But we also want to help the utility meet its needs and keep costs down, while maintaining comfort."

Making it Work for the Long Term
The Automated Home Energy Management Laboratory, housed in the Thermal Test Facility on NREL's main campus, incorporates all major and minor residential energy loads into a robust test bed that supports the evaluation of any type of residential automation, sensor, or energy management product in a realistic context. Credit: Dennis Schroeder      Home energy management is a critical area for the DOE Building America program to reach its long-term goals of at least 50 percent energy savings for new construction and 40 percent savings over the minimum code for building retrofits.

The Automated Home Energy Management Laboratory, housed in the Thermal Test Facility on NREL's main campus, incorporates all major and minor residential energy loads into a robust test bed that supports the evaluation of any type of residential automation, sensor, or energy management product in a realistic context.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder

     Building America is the flagship program for residential research within the Building Technologies Program at DOE. The goal is to make energy efficiency cost effective for residential buildings; NREL is the technology lead and manager for the program.

     "Work we did seven years ago is now being adopted into the current energy codes," Christensen said. "We are ahead of industry because it takes time for results of our research to make their way to the consumer. From where we sit right now, it looks like there is a big challenge in getting beyond the 50 percent energy savings for new home construction and 40 to 50 percent savings in retrofits, without home energy management technology in place.

     "The technology created and tested at NREL's Smart Power Lab or Automated Home Energy Management Lab will enable those home-energy puzzle pieces to fall into place — helping people turn the lights off when nobody is at home, helping people adjust their thermostat when they are not at home, helping people understand that energy is expensive at a particular time of day so they can avoid running an energy-intensive appliance until power is less expensive — all of that helps save energy and costs across the board."

Learn more about the Energy Systems Integration Facility and NREL's Residential Buildings Research.

Article courtesy of NREL.

Try eating - not pulling-the weeds in your garden

        By: Mary O'Brien

     Weeds can  serve as food, medicine and healers of the earth when they are appreciated rather than maligned in our gardens.

     Common definitions for weeds include “plants that we don’t yet know the virtues of" and  “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.”

     For centuries, weeds have followed human migrations across the planet as we have moved and expanded into new environments.  They have come on the wind, in the water, from animals, on our footsteps, in our ships and imports and with our quest for beauty in our gardens.  Accidently and purposefully, we have a large part to play for their presence.  If we look closely at how they move, we see they grow where we, or natural events, have created disturbance, turned and exposed the soil, changed the environment.  Why don’t they grow deep in our forests and in undisturbed ecosystems?  Maybe, just maybe, Mother Nature has a bigger plan for them then we have been willing to admit.  Maybe they are here to heal the earth where we have changed or damaged it.  By blaming weeds for our loss of diversity, we can shift the blame away from our own destructive treatment of our natural habitats.

     Weeds have advantages that allow them to proliferate in disturbed environments.  They grow quickly and often produce large numbers of seeds that can survive the in ground for many years.  Some have short life spans while producing multiple generations in the same growing season.  Many have underground or aboveground stems that spread out and “take over”.  They flourish in soils that are depleted, polluted and compacted.  These same advantages that favor their growth are creating biomass, preventing erosion, bringing up nutrients, revitalizing the soil, attracting beneficial insects and feeding the soil food web.  Research is showing us that many weeds have the capacity to clean poisons and heavy metals from contaminated soils.

     Mother Nature wants there to be a multitude of different plants, animals and other organisms growing together.  Advancements in science and technology have allowed us to begin to understand the interrelationships among plants and the microorganisms in the soil that we call the soil food web. We now know that there is communication among these organisms.  “Nature’s internet” functions by sharing water and nutrients through a vast network of fungi and microorganisms that support the growth of plants. 

Permaculture practice and weeds

     Boomproof Sheet Mulch Diagram by Toby Hemenway in Gaia's GardenPermaculture principles promote observing and trying to understand and then imitate the interactions of nature’s ecosystems.  Observing the actions of the weeds in our landscapes may show us how they are working to recreate the important soil web balance.  Can we be more respectful about the role a plant might be playing in the complex system of the garden?  In our cultivated gardens, we can use techniques designed to control weed growth while building healthy soils for our food and ornamentals.  Tilling the soil is highly discouraged.  Every time the soil is disturbed the balance of this network is destroyed and nature steps in to repair that balance.  She abhors a vacuum.  If you remove a weed, something must grow in its place-often another weed.  Breaking off stems, digging and pulling, often does no more than stimulate growth from the underground rhizomes.  Especially plants like bindweed which sends out a new plant where ever there is a break in the root system.  Disturbance promotes weed invasion.  A technique called sheet mulching or lasagna gardening is recommended.  Weeds need light to survive.  Keeping them covered with thick mulch can help reduce their numbers while retaining valuable moisture in the soil.  Cutting them off at ground level and throwing them back on the ground  (before seeds have formed) adds to the mulch while adding nutrients.  

     Another option would be to treat your weeds as cultivated plants, harvest and use them for food and medicine.  You might also use them as rotation and cover crops (they bring up subsoil minerals and protect against many insects).  You can interplant selected useful weeds with your vegetables and give them the same care.  Harvest when young and tasty, pinch back the top to encourage leafy growth, thin frequently and generously.  If they get ahead of you and go to seed, harvest the seeds and use them.  As we integrate more and segregate less, we increase biodiversity benefiting your garden’s ecosystem and decreasing the amount of maintenance work required.

     Weeds as food and medicine

     Some of my favorite medicinal and edible plants are weeds.  Can it be that Mother Nature has sent us an abundance of plants for healing humans as well as the earth?  A popular saying among folk herbalists is, “plants that grow prolifically and near to humans are calling to us to use them”.  Many like dandelion, are yelling loudly at us to use them.  Most are nutritious, safe and versatile.  Regularly incorporating highly nutritious greens into our diets is really the first step in creating healthy bodies.  Let our food be our medicine.  

      Here are some of my favorite common Colorado garden weeds:


     using dandilion as an herbThe entire plant is edible and considered a whole body tonic and considered one of the safest and most important herbs for the liver.  Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), has been known around the world for its healing properties for centuries despite its modern day stigma as a lawn nuisance.  The greens are more nutritious than spinach.  They contain vitamins A, C, E, K, thiamin, riboflavin, B complexes, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, silicon, tin, zinc, folate, phosphorus, copper, iron, protein and dietary fiber.

     Young tender leaves harvested either before the flower buds develop or again in the fall, are the best tasting for salads and steamed greens.  The young spring greens picked before flowering, eaten a few times a week for about six weeks can promote spring liver cleansing.  Dandelion leaf has been shown to relieve PMS, vaginal dryness, and arthritis, as well as improve circulation and urinary problems.  The leaves are a good diuretic for fluid retention and help eliminate toxins and constipation.  Once they have bloomed, their taste becomes too bitter for some folks.  The sharp taste can be lessened by cooking the leaves in salted water of adding a small amount of vinegar to the finished dish.  The bitter taste in foods stimulates gastric juices and helps to improve digestion.  Mature leaves can be gathered and dried for tea.

     The flower blossoms are a good wild food.  The petals with green parts removed can be used in salads, biscuits, pancakes, wine, beer and syrup.  Blossoms can be infused in oil and used as a muscle relaxing massage oil.  A blossom tea or facial steam can help heal chapped or wind burned areas, age spots, large pores, wrinkles and bring the skin chemistry back into balance.

     The roots can be boiled for a vegetable and roasted and ground as a coffee substitute.  Dandelion roots, gathered in the early spring or fall, are an excellent liver and stomach herb used to increase the production of liver secretions such a bile, and strengthen the liver’s ability to clear toxins out of the blood, resulting in a clear complexion, better digestion, less bloating, sounder sleep and improved appetite.  The unroasted roots are the most medicinal and the root tea, tincture or capsules have been used to treat such problems as jaundice, hepatitis, hypoglycemia, muscular rheumatism, eczema, acne and anemia.

     Regular use of dandelion can strengthen and tone the entire digestive system.  Be sure to harvest the plant in ‘clean’ areas not sprayed with chemicals or not visited by pets.  Dandelion is also working in your garden to attract ladybugs, aerate the soil and provide early spring pollen for bees and other pollinators.

Lamb’s quarter

     Chenpoduim Album herbChenopodium album has many names including wild spinach; fat hen and pigweed (because it is a good feed for livestock) and goosefoot which refers to the goose foot shape of its leaf.  It is another plant found all over the world with a long history of use for food.  It is often one of the first weeds to show up in newly cultivated soils.  Another highly nutritious plant, it is  high in protein, carbohydrates and fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and vitamins A, B1, B2, Niacin, B6 and C.  Use the young leaves in salads. Older leaves and tender stalks cooked like spinach.  Seeds can be dried and cooked in soups, porridge or sprouted for salads.  Lamb Quarters herbLamb’s quarter does have some gentle medicinal actions, though not used today in commerce.  A leaf tea can be helpful in rheumatism.  A wash of the leaves can be use as a wash or poultice for bug bites, sunburn, rheumatic  and swollen joints.  The powdered herb has a history of use as a contraceptive by suppressing menstruation.


     Purslane (Portulace oleracea) leaves have a sour, spicy and salty flavor.  The young leaves are good in salads and as a thickener in soups.  Older leaves can be cooked like spinach.  The seeds raw or cooked have many uses.  The plant is high in protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals.  It is also high in omega 3 fatty acids.  The leaves can be poulticed for burns, insect bites and skin diseases and used in teas to treat stomach and headaches.  There are other medicinal uses and some cautions discouraging internal use during pregnancy and with digestive problems.

Common mallow

    Mallow herb Also called cheeseweed because the fruits of Malva neglecta resemble wheels of cheese.  The whole plant is mild tasting and very nutritious.  The leaves and young shoots can be used in salads or cooked as greens.  The mature seeds have a nutty flavor good for nibbling or adding to salads.  The leaves and flowers have properties that are healing to tissues internally and externally and a gentle laxative for kids.  It has similar yet gentler actions to the more commonly used herb marsh mallow.   

     Stinging Nettle

      Stinging nettle (Urtica gracilis) is found around the world usually in waste places and along fencerows.  I have always introduced it into my gardens, though into its own private corner.  It does sting.  The high nutritional content, taste and medicinal properties make this a ‘must have” plant for me.  I love the young leaves cooked like spinach and nettle soup is fabulous.  The sting is caused by the formic acid in plant hairs and has been used to treat rheumatic joints by rubbing or beating the leaves on to the joints in a process called urtification.  Cooking or drying deactivates the sting.  The aerial tops harvested before flowering are used as a nutritive tonic, high in iron, minerals, vitamins A and C, and a diuretic and urinary tract astringent.  It is anti-allergenic and natural anti-histamine used to treat hay fever, pollen and food allergies, asthma, itchy skin conditions and insect bites.  It also reduces bleeding associated with wounds, menstruation, bladder infections and hemorrhoids and increases mother’s milk flow.  Other applications include: kidney stones, premenstrual syndrome, benign prostatic hypertrophy, gout, multiple sclerosis dental plague, diarrhea, sciatica, arthritis, many respiratory conditions, Alzheimer’s and anemia.  This is an amazing healing plant.

     Other good weeds

     Other “weeds” that might be found in your particular landscape that are edible and/or medicinal and worth getting to know:  Burdock (Arctium lappa), Curly dock (Rumex crispus), Pigweed (Amaranthus spp), Chicory (Cichorium intybus), Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Mustard (Brassica spp.), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Chickweed (Stellaria spp.), Clover (Trifolium spp.), Yarrow (Achillea lanulosa) and many grasses (Poa spp.).

      Be smart and educate yourself

     The information I am providing here is to entice you to identify and learn about your “wilder” garden plants.  Before taking any plants internally it is important to make sure of your identification and do your own homework.  Generally these plants are gentle, nutritious and safe but as with any herb, some may not be recommended during pregnancy or with certain medical conditions.  There are many great resources available which you should consult before using.

     Plants for a Future, a great website for researching just about all one needs to know about plant uses:

      "Weeds of the West" by Tom Whitson -- This is a very extensive reference, good for identification with photos but, my caveat is that the emphasis is “weeds are pests” and encourages chemical control.

     Here are two resources that encourage the reader to create a different attitude about weeds with lots of supportive research:

     “Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives” by Timothy Lee Scott

     “Weeds, In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants” by Richard Mabey

Mary O’Brien is an herbalist specializing in using bioregional plants and is certified in Permaculture design. She teaches both herbal medicine and Permaculture throughout Colorado.

Homemade herbal teas for a healthy winter

        By: Mary O'Brien

     Colds and flu tend to be among the unwelcome visitors of the new year. You can fight seasonal maladies with some homemade teas, using ingredients  available in your local herb shop, apothecary or health food store.  By shopping locally, you will be helping the planet and the local economy.

Herbal Tea Infousion     How about a tea blend that works on fever, aches and nausea? 

Equal parts of peppermint, elder flower and yarrow is a traditional combination that increases sweating, calms the stomach and helps decongest the lungs.  Drink it hot throughout the day.  When we increase sweating, we are opening pores that allow toxins to be released and gently cooling the body to naturally reduce the discomfort of a fever.  Fever is the body’s natural protection response to fight infection by making the body too hot for the invaders to survive.  So some fever is good, we just don’t want it to get too high.
     To make an infusion of this blend, use  one to three tablespoons of the herbs for each cup of water you use. You can make it in a cup, tea pot, quart jar or whatever you have on hand. Pour the just boiling water over the herb and let steep at least 20 to 30 minutes -- the longer and stronger the better.

Echinacea     Echinacea root (pictured above as a flower) stimulates the immune system to go into action to fight infections.  It needs to be ingested at the very first signs of cold or flu and taken frequently in small amount throughout the day.  Echinacea tinctures are preferred by most because of their portability and there is no need for preparation.  Just put a dropperful in hot water or add to any herbal teas and drink every hour or two.                                  

     If you want to make an immune support tea blend, you can combine echinacea root with one or more of these roots; dandelion, ginger, cinnamon bark, burdock, osha, yellow dock and astragalus. Rosehips are high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids which support the immune system and add nice flavoring.

     To prepare this tea, you need to make what is called a decoction.  A decoction is necessary when you are making remedies from tough plant materials, such as roots, bark, seeds or stems. To begin, place thinly chopped plant material into a saucepan and add cold water. Use one to two tablespoons of the herbs to one cup of water. Bring the decoction to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes, and strain after the liquid has been reduced by one half.  

     It is actually easier to make a quart of tea at a time because it is best to drink small amounts every 30 minutes to an hour throughout the day when dealing with acute problems like colds and flu. It’s beneficial to drink a total of three to four cups each day.  If you are giving this as a gift, maybe add a tea ball or bamboo basket infuser.  All teas can be sweetened with a little raw honey if needed.  Raw honey has its own infection fighting properties.
The powers of ginger

      Ginger is an amazing herb that is good for nausea and warming against the chills and also helps break up lung congestion.  Ginger tea is easy to make by gently simmering a slice of the root in water for 20 to 30 minutes.  Lemon and honey are good in this tea.  For the gift basket, you can add some raw ginger but a package of crystallized ginger would be a little more fun.  Just sucking on a piece can help relieve nausea.  One or two pieces can be added to any tea for flavoring and fighting those chills and nausea.

      Some herbs are nice used just as simple teas. German chamomile helps lower fevers, calms coughs, is a gentle sedative and promotes sleep. Catnip is good for diarrhea and stomach upsets, fevers and congestion and is gentle and safe for kids.  Lemon Balm is good for fevers, intestinal bloating or flatulence and helps relieve tension and depression during a cold or flu.  

      Single herbs and herbal tea mixtures can be used in steam inhalants and vaporizers, herbal steam baths and herbal compressions. Herbs including basil, sage, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus and thyme help break up congestion and are anti-microbial and especially effective for these applications.

Essential oils have many uses

      Essential oils can help diminish the symptoms of a cold as well as reducing the risk of secondary infections.  Many are antimicrobial and stimulate immune response.  For relief of congestion, a steam inhalation can be very effective.  They can also be added to a hot bath or foot soak for symptom relief and relaxing comfort.

     A vapor rub can be made by adding a few drops of essential oils to olive oil or Vaseline and massaged into the throat and chest.  Eucalyptus and peppermint are especially nice for this.  Lavender essential oil is well known for its ability to help reduce stress and calm aches and pain. It can be added to a relaxing bath, rubbed on the temples for headaches or a few drops added to a tissue and inhaled to induce sleep. Remember essential oils are not for internal use.

  lavender     If I were going to select just two essential oils for home remedies, I would say lavender and eucalyptus are the most versatile and user friendly.  Add a package of Epson salts to the gift basket for a complete soothing, healing bath recipe.
     Zinc has antioxidant properties that have also been shown to help boost the immune system and shorten the duration of symptoms. Lozenges with zinc and slippery elm are helpful for soothing the pain.

     Earaches are common with colds especially in children.   If your gift recipient is a parent, maybe adding a jar of ear oil for those childhood ear infections would be appreciated.  Ear oil is made from infusing garlic and/or mullein flowers in olive oil and can be very effective in removing the pain while fighting the infection.  A one ounce jar lasts a long time.  To make the ear oil, cover the herbs with the olive oil and let set in a warm place for a couple of weeks or simmer gently in a double boiler for about an hour.  Just don’t boil the oil.  Strain the herbs, bottle and label the oil. 

To use this oil for an earache, put two to three drops of the warmed oil in the ear and then massage in front of and behind the ear to stimulate blood flow. Use a cotton ball to keep oil in the ear.  A warm cloth over the ear area can be very soothing.  Once I discovered this remedy, my kids’ ear infections decreased dramatically and they soon learned to ask for the oil as soon as their ears started to hurt.

    I have found that when I work with the plants and talk to them about the healing I hope they will provide, their helping properties are enhanced.  

Mary O’Brien is an herbalist specializing in using bioregional plants and is certified in Permaculture design. She teaches both herbal medicine and Permaculture throughout Colorado.

Seeking green projects for showcase park

        By: Jerry Brown

     The Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES) is moving ahead with plans for the Denver Sustainability Park near downtown as a showcase for earth-friendly projects.

     CRES is requesting letters of interest from organizations interested in developing projects or programs for the park by  December 14.CRES and the Denver Housing Authority are partnering to develop  the park on a 2.7-acre site at 2500 Lawrence Street, five blocks west of Coors Field.

     The park “is a first-of-its-kind demonstration and testing site for a full spectrum of sustainable technologies and strategies,” CRES officials said. It also will include an outdoor commons area serving as an open-air classroom and venue for community and cultural events.

     The Denver Sustainability Park will be a place to showcase and demonstrate established and emerging strategies.  Plans call for ''a hands-on learning laboratory for students, developers, green industry professionals, municipal leaders and the public at large.”

     CRES wants proposed projects or programs to include at least one of five elements: renewable energy, green building, urban agriculture and sustainable site development, community outreach and education, or transportation. The proposals can include established technologies or “emerging or nontraditional ideas.”

     The proposals will be evaluated by a committee of renewable energy and green-building experts, design professionals, community stakeholders and representatives from CRES and the Denver Housing Authority.

     The letters of interest should include a brief description of the project or program, space requirements including any special siting requirements and an explanation of how it will enrich the sustainability park’s mission of “advancing a holistic model for developing health sustainable communities,” CRES said.

     CRES said it “understands that all information submitted may not be 100% firm and accurate. At this stage, specifications or other information regarding your proposal are not meant to be binding contractual commitments.”

     Visitors to the sustainability park are expected to number “in the tens of thousands” annually. “With strategic involvement in events like the World Renewable Energy Forum coming to Denver in May 2012, and the Annual Green Route Festival, the park and its supporting partners and exhibitors will get local, national and international exposure,” CRES  officials said.

     Letters of interest and questions should be submitted to DJ Cardi, program manager, Colorado Renewable Energy Society, 3245 Eliot Street, Denver, CO 80211. He can be reached at 303-882-5300 |

Jerry Brown | 303-781-8787 | 303-594-8016 (mobile) |

Electric cars getting revenge at the movies

        By: Phil von Hake

     Most of us have probably at least heard about  the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Director Chris Paine told a riveting story of how General Motors introduced the EV1 (arguably the world’s first mass-produced battery electric vehicle) in the mid-1990s.

     Despite initial success and a flurry of passionate interest among its mostly-California-based lessees, GM abruptly ended its plans to continue any electric-car programs, recalled all of the 5,000 EV1s it produced, and took them to a secret location to be crushed. A precious few EV1s remain in museums and other undisclosed locations, and stand as a monument to one of the Big Three Automakers’ worst decisions ever.

     Much has changed in the automotive world (for better and worse) since 2006, and Paine is back with a sequel titled Revenge of the Electric Car. While the movie debuted back in April, it didn’t make it to Denver until Thanksgiving weekend. And while I take pride in being one of the first people in the Denver area to buy a Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid (150K+ miles and still going strong!), I took advantage of Black Friday’s relatively balmy weather and rode my bike to the Chez Artiste theater in Southeast Denver. I saw the movie with Steve Sargent (2009 President of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society) and Steve Stevens (who brought Steve Sargent & his date with him in his Plug-in Prius, the electric part of which he proudly recharges with solar panels on top of his less-than-zero-energy home in Golden).

     While GM was one of the first movie’s main villains, Revenge features one of its most prominent executives – former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, or “Mr. Detroit” – as GM’s main champion for the new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. It also follows Nissan/Renault Carlos Ghosn (“The Warrior” who shepherds the Nissan Leaf 100%-electric car to final production), Tesla Motors founder Elon “Rocket Man” Musk (who sweats through – and pays for – the painstaking details of starting a car company from scratch), and Greg “Gadget” Abbott, “The Outsider” who converts internal-combustion engines to all-electric from his bare-bones industrial facility in LA. Each of our four protagonists navigate a dizzying maze of economic conditions (most notably the financial crisis of 2008), consumer requests, safety & reliability issues, and the overall paradigm shift of powering cars with electricity instead of petroleum.

     The cigar-puffing Lutz recognizes (but stops far short of apologizing for) GM’s mistakes around the EV1, and sees the Volt becoming a forerunner of every car that rolls off of GM’s assembly lines: “the electrification of automobiles will eventually be a foregone conclusion.”

     Ghosn is a dead-serious businessman who fearlessly brings Nissan/Renault into the Electric-Car Age with the Leaf, which seeks to replace the EV1 as the world’s first mass-produced electric car … and more importantly, keep producing them. Both GM and Nissan/Renault have received Car of the Year Awards for each of their latest electric offerings.

     Musk took a big chunk of the money he made from selling PayPal and started a car company. The Tesla Roadster is one of the fastest, sexiest, and most promising cars (electric or otherwise) to come along in decades, but one wonders if even brilliant minds like those of Musk and his Tesla colleagues can clear every operational, technical, financial, legal, and other hurdle needed to run a car company in the 21st century. Just as Musk’s bank account runs dry, though, a well-timed IPO brings in a few hundred million more so he can keep this experiment going.

     “Gadget” really is the outsider in this film, and now even in this industry. Despite losing everything in a fire at his garage, he rebuilds, relocates, and returns to converting already-built gasoline-fueled vehicles into electric cars. He and his charming wife represent the “EV-do-it-yourselfers” who represented the electric car “industry” for decades, but go a long way to deciding what to do with the billions of cars that are still out there burning gas.

     Revenge highlights how the electric car has generally survived The Great Recession, and submits that building & selling more of them could provide a way out of it. But it also shows how the industry is still at least as dependent on up-front money from public and private investors as it is on actual sales. It didn’t foresee things like multiple government debt crises and the Solyndra bankruptcy before talking about how much Tesla got in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy. Good thing they had a solid IPO, as they should not expect much more help from the government!

     Toyota and its groundbreaking Prius hybrid were conspicuously absent in Revenge. Maybe Paine thought he gave it enough mention in his first film. Maybe Lutz & Ghosn thought featuring two big car companies in this film was more than enough. Regardless, the Prius played an essential role in letting the electric car exact any revenge at all. Other electric car makers like BYD, Coda, Fisker, ZENN, etc. are also nowhere to be found in Revenge, even though each of them are at least as far along in their respective EV-production efforts as GM, Nissan, and Tesla.

     I’ll admit to being very much like the average person in that South Park episode when everybody got hybrids, when the easing of smog in the area was quickly replaced by an equally-ominous cloud of … smug! I felt even more smug when I rode my bike to this movie, knowing that human-powered vehicles can solve even more problems than electric vehicles. But then I rode home – in the dark, mostly uphill, and with dropping temperatures & gusty winds – reminding me that electric cars must become an essential part of our transportation mix!

     Revenge of the Electric Car provides a good history of electric vehicles over most of the past decade, but I’d refrain from calling it THE history unless it had also mentioned the Prius and other significant EVs. 

     Until we all have our own electric cars, don’t forget to keep your current vehicle tuned up, and use alternatives like transit, biking, walking, and telecommuting whenever you can.

We can win clean energy battle, says Energy Secretary Chu

        By: Bill Scanlon

     Seven trillion dollars are at stake in the global battle to win market share in renewable energy and the United States can win that battle, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said recently in Colorado.

           Chu toured a GE-PrimeStar Solar plant in Arvada, on Nov. 18 that he said was a stellar example of American invention leading to American jobs. Later the same day, he toured the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden and spoke to a gathering of NREL and DOE employees.

     NREL Director Dan Arvizu and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu answer questions during the secretary's visit to the lab.At PrimeStar, Chu noted that the company adopted technology developed at NREL to build thin film solar panels made of cadmium and telluride. The technology can be more efficient than silicon solar cells and cost much less — because it uses 99 percent less chemical material than more conventional cells.

NREL Director Dan Arvizu and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu answer questions during the secretary's visit to the lab.

     GE PrimeStar recently announced plans to build a large manufacturing plant in Aurora which will employ about 400 people and build enough modules to power 80,000 homes.

      Chu said that if the United States balks at helping private firms invest in the most exciting new renewable energy ideas, there are 50 other nations that will continue to do so within their borders.

      In China, Canada, Australia, India, and most of the countries of western Europe, governments are making direct investments or guaranteeing financing — because they know the stakes are so high.

      "We can accept defeat and watch the solar jobs go to China, Germany and other countries, or we can get in the game and play to win, creating jobs in Colorado and across the country," Chu said.

      Chu noted that the United States still leads the world in solar innovations — the scientific and research work behind the most important breakthroughs.

      However, the United States lost its lead in exporting solar equipment — China now has a 50 percent share, while the U.S. has dropped to 7 percent.

 America Won Back the Lead in Air Transportation

      There are precedents in America for technologies that were invented here, usurped by others, and then won back, Chu noted.

      The Wright Brothers invented the airplane, but within 10 years, Europe was building better planes and winning the market battle, he said.

      "We didn't say, OK, we invented it but now we're waving the white flag," he said. "No, we said, 'we'll win back this technology.' And we did it.

      "Just like with the airplane, we can and should win back the market lead in renewable energy."

NREL Developed the Solar Cell Technology Employed by Primestar

DOE Golden Field Office Executive Director Carol Battershell, NREL Deputy Lab Director Dana Christensen, Electricity, Resources & Building Systems Integration Center Director David Mooney show Energy Secretary Steven Chu NREL's newest buildings.       Innovations such as PrimeStar's that are more cost efficient and energy-efficient can make U.S. manufacturing an attractive alternative to shipping that work overseas, Chu said.

In 2007, PrimeStar signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with NREL, which had earlier developed the cadmium-telluride technology on which the solar cell is based.

DOE Golden Field Office Executive Director Carol Battershell, NREL Deputy Lab Director Dana Christensen, Electricity, Resources & Building Systems Integration Center Director David Mooney show Energy Secretary Steven Chu NREL's newest buildings.

DOE later invested $3 million so the experts at NREL's solar incubator program could help PrimeStar develop the technology to pilot scale.  

     Now, the largest energy company in the world, GE, has taken a $600 million stake in that technology.

      "Global business in renewable energy last year was $240 billion," Chu noted. "It's destined to grow by leaps and bounds. By 2030 it should be $460 billion a year.

      "That's $5 trillion to $7 trillion — a huge market potential.

      "It's very important that we stay in this game," Chu said. "Is it a game we can win? Absolutely.

      "Because of our technological edge, we can be competitive with anyone in the world" if research and development is funded adequately.

At NREL, Chu Talks about Investments, Innovations

     Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper greets U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu as he arrives at NREL.Chu toured the PrimeStar plant, then visited NREL in nearby Golden, where Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper introduced him.

      "NREL again and again has demonstrated that it is in the forefront of taking ideas and turning them into jobs, and improving the quality of life in Colorado, the nation and the world," Hickenlooper said.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper greets U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu as he arrives at NREL.

     Chu, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 when he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said wind power now is virtually cost-competitive with fossil fuels, going for about 5 and a half cents per kilowatt hour.

      Solar is still more expensive than that, but should reach price parity by the end of this decade or a few years beyond, he said.

      It will get there because of investments in start-ups such as 1366 Technologies, a company that is using a brand new approach, akin to dipping a strawberry into chocolate, to make solar cells that are thinner and much more cost-effective.

      "That's an example of American ingenuity," Chu said. "We don't know if it will work out or not. But it is a good enough idea that 1366 is already getting private investment.

      "We haven't lost our stature in terms of our ability to invent and innovate," Chu said. "But when I see what other countries are doing in terms of support … we have to remember: 'Are we in this to win?'"

      He says his priority now is to talk to "Democrats and Republicans to make sure we continue our strong investments in energy research. It is so important that we continue this research."

      Before taking a look at the construction of NREL's new Energy Systems Integration Faciliity, where utilities will test their smart-grid capabilities, Chu told the NREL audience that industries as diverse as railroads, telecommunications, semiconductors and oil and gas survived and prospered because of government investment.

      He said when he's asked how long renewable energy should continue to get some subsidies, he reminds that oil has had them for more than a century and jokes that renewables should receive subsidies but, "by no means for more than 100 years."

      Some say that with the economic downturn this is not the time to invest in future energy, but Chu says it is the right time.

      He noted that in the depths of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had the foresight to establish the land grant universities to make agriculture and the mechanical arts more scientific, found money for the transcontinental railroad, and established the National Academy of Sciences to assure that he was getting advice on military and domestic policy from the era's greatest minds.

      "Of course, that last one, Lincoln insisted that the scientists give their help for no pay," Chu noted wryly.

      "We were a cheap date then, and we're a cheap date now."

Story courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Photo's courtesy of NREL and credit to Dennis Schroeder

Button up your home for winter

Heating costs rise as temperatures drop but you can save money by buttoning up your home for winter. 

 By taking small, simple measures, you can enjoy energy savings of up to 25% and the extra comfort and safety of a warmer, more comfortable  home. Below are some do-it-yourself checks and updates to ensure your home is in top shape this winter season.

Checking for Leaks

Sealing drafts and leaks is a top way consumers can  drop down energy costs in their homes. Free or inexpensive updates such as weather stripping and caulking can help you enjoy significant savings.

Test for air leaks by holding a lit incense stick next to the area of the suspected draft.  If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you’ve found an air leak and will need to seal, caulk, insulate, or properly reinforce the area both on the inside and outside of the home.  

Areas you’ll want to check for leaks and drafts include doors, windows, electrical boxes and outlets, plumbing fixtures and vents, ceiling fixtures, and attic hatches. Your home’s heating ducts take a bit more work to check, repair or replace, but torn or crushed ducts could be otherwise wasting energy for years.

Don't forget to close your fireplace vent when not in use. And plug up  open holes in your basement or crawl space – forgotten openings are a big area for energy waste.

You can repair drafty windows by sealing them with a clear plastic film widely available in kits at your local hardware or home improvement store.

While you are outside, bring plants and equipment inside and shut down and drain your outside irrigation system. Outside patio furniture, grills, hoses, toys and other items will last longer when not faced with harsh wind and snow.

Insulation in Your home

Insulation will help reduce the amount of heat escaping from your home during the winter months and cut home heating costs. It’s important to have a thick, even layer of insulation throughout the walls, floors, and attic of your home.  If you are unsure about how to update your insulation, set up a professional consultation or ask your local hardware store.

Your Heating System

Your heating system is another key area where small changes can make a large impact on energy savings. Make sure to replace your heater’s air filter monthly as well as to clean and remove dust from vents and along baseboard heaters.

Also, check that all heating vents are open and not blocked by furniture, curtains or other items. Blocked vents can prevent even heating flow throughout the home and become a fire hazard.  You should also place an insulation blanket around your water heater to keep water heated longer.

If your heating system is dated pre-1980, consider updating for an additional cost and cut natural gas use almost in half. Lastly, a programmable thermostat is a valuable tool that lets you adjust temperatures depending on when you are or aren’t home to save energy usage and costs.

And don’t neglect your air conditioning unit during your winter preparation. Make sure to turn off both the unit and breaker box and then cover for the season to prevent damage.

This series of tips was contributed by iCAST, the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology. iCAST is a nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, CO, focused on helping the viability of communities through sustainability projects that help bring energy improvements and positively impact the environment. Learn more at




Fall planting for a healing garden

        By: Mary O'Brien

     Fall is a perfect time to prepare and plant a medicine garden of common plants that you can use in teas and foods to treat a wide variety of common complaints.

 Perennials can be the foundation of a medicine garden and many are often on sale in the fall. Established perennial plants often get crowded and need dividing. Asking neighbors about plants they might want to share or trade is a wonderful way to create community and a new garden for low cost.

     May O'Brien Fall planting for a healing garden

         photo:  Heather Thomas works with an herb garden

          Almost all culinary plants have medicinal properties.  Starting with plants you are already familiar with will make learning how to use medicinal plants easier. Well-known plants such as  peppermint, spearmint, sage, thyme, lemon balm, catnip, oregano and lavender have healing properties.   Examples of other perennials with medicinal uses are echinacea, yarrow, motherwort, comfrey, lady’s mantle, hops, elecampane, violets, chamomile, rose, raspberry and hollyhock .  There are many more.

     You can add new plants to an existing garden to fill in bare spaces or start a new garden space.  Ideally, you want to locate medicinal plants close to your kitchen so they will be more convenient to harvest when needed on short notice.  If these plants are out in the ‘north 40’ you will probably forget all about them and miss the opportune time to harvest them for your winter medicine stash.
     Soil preparation is important no matter when you plant.  Adding compost is highly recommended to improve soil texture, nutrient availability and water holding capacity.  Fall planted plants don’t need as much water as during the summer but thorough watering initially is important and occasional watering during the winter if it is dry will help plants thrive.

     In Colorado, all transplanting should be done by the end of October so plants can get settled in before winter.  Mulching with fall leaves is good practice for protecting the plants, holding moisture and adding nutrients as they break down.  If you are starting a new garden, sheet mulching (also called lasagna gardening) is a great no dig, no weed technique for creating a growing space while saving our backs from the aches and pains that come with digging.  Deep digging and tilling upsets the underground web of life that supports and nourishes the plants.  Mother Nature never digs she just puts more and more nutrient rich material on top of the ground and lets all the tiny underground life forms do their jobs.  
Indoor Medicine Gardening

     Another winter time alternative for access to medicinal plants is to grow them inside in a sunny window.  Many of the smaller culinary plants like sage, thyme, rosemary, lavender, basil, parsley and catnip can be brought in and used fresh as seasoning and medicine all winter.  
Teas are the easiest and most effective ways to use these plants.  Select the freshest leaves and young flowering tops and use fresh or dry quickly and store in a dark, cool environment. These can be used alone as tea or as a part of a tea blend.  To brew medicinal teas from leaves and flowers, cover the plant material with almost boiling water and let steep at least 20 minutes.  The longer and the stronger the better. The general rule is 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried plant material to 1 cup of water.  When making tea for medicine, it often is more efficient to makes larger quantities so that you have plenty on hand.  Usually when treating something like a cold, you want to be drinking the tea throughout the day to assist the body in reducing symptoms and fighting off the infection.

     If stored in the refrigerator, teas will keep for 2 to 3 days.  These same teas can also be used externally as a wash or compress for treating skin and muscular complaints.  You can also make tinctures from your plant material using alcohol, glycerine or vinegar.

Invest in Resources to Stay Safe

     If you are going to use plants for medicine, please invest in one or two good herbal books and use on-line resources for usage and dosage information and any cautions in using these herbs. Not all herbs are benign, some may interact with prescription drugs and some can be toxic. Sometimes there are cautions for use during pregnancy.  So be an educated user.  I have supplied some resources at the end of this article.
     Here is a brief overview of the medicinal actions of the most popular kitchen medicine herbs:

Garden sage        Salvia officinalis. Anti-inflammatory for gastrointestinal tract: mouth sores, sore throats, gas and indigestion. Helps stop flow of breast milk and decrease menopausal night sweats. Teas used as hair rinse and medicinal wash.  Powerful antioxidant action helps stimulate immunity and decrease artery damage from inflammation.  Not long term use or during pregnancy.

Thyme        Thymus vulgaris. Used for coughs, bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough.  Strong antiseptic properties make it effective as a sore throat gargle, a lotion for infected wounds, as well as for infections of the digestive and respiratory tracts.  Helps improve digestion and decrease gas.

Lavender    Lavendula angustifolia.  Anti-depressant, sedative, antispasmodic. Relieves spasms in digestive tract. Eases headaches, depression and anxiety. Useful in high blood pressure.  Gentle nervous system tonic. Excellent for children’s stomach aches and colic. Good skin herb.

Lemon Balm        Melissia officinalis. Great tea flavoring.  Anti-depressant, sedative, antispasmodic. Relieves spasms in digestive tract.  Eases depression and anxiety.  Useful in high blood pressure. Excellent for children’s stomach aches.  Great stress reliever.

Catnip        Nepeta cataria. Relaxing to nerves and digestion.  Traditional for colicky babies.  Pain reliever.  Lowers fever in colds and flu.  Good for children’s diarrhea. Cats love it too!  

Spearmint    Mentha spicata. Digestive, respiratory and nervous system aide. Helps reduce fevers in colds, calm sore throats, decrease vomiting, colic and gas. Anti-viral and anti-fungal.

Peppermint    Mentha piperita. Good for colds, congestion, fevers, digestive complaints, nerves, pain, nausea, sore muscles, skin conditions and kid’s remedies and so much more.  All body systems respond to this herb

Rosemary    Rosmarinus spp. Used to calm gastrointestinal complaints such as gas, bloating, flatulence and gall bladder dysfunction.  Tones and stimulates circulation and nerves. Relieves nasal and chest congestion in colds. Wonderful tonic, especially for the elderly and when recovering from debilitating disease.  Aids memory and brain function.  Anti-bacterial and very high in antioxidants.
Echinacea    Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea. Stimulates immune system by increasing white blood cells.  Use frequently at onset of any infection, colds, flu, staph, venomous bites and congested lymph.  Also good in tissue repair and connective tissue swelling.

Yarrow    Achillea spp. First aid plant with antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and astringent properties, yarrow helps heal cuts and wounds, soothes hemorrhoids and varicose veins when used topically. Stops bleeding internally and externally. Good for colds and flu as a hot tea or bath to lower fevers.  As a bitter tonic, it stimulates digestion.  Dilates and tones the blood vessels.  Brings on delayed menstruation.  Attracts beneficial insects and repels many pests.

Hyssop    Hyssopus officinalis. Anti-depressant, sedative, antispasmodic. Relieves spasms in digestive tract and respiratory system especially for coughs and bronchitis. Eases depression and anxiety. Useful in high blood pressure. Excellent for children’s stomach aches.

Hollyhock    Alcea rosea. Externally used for skin inflammations and ulcers.  Internally for sore throats, fevers, respiratory, digestive and urinary tract discomforts.

Comfrey    Symphytum spp. Used for digestive tract problems.  Speeds up healing of broken bones, pulled muscles, ligaments and wounds.  Number 1 permaculture plant, accumulates nutrients from soil, speeds composting, attracts beneficials.

Violets    Viola spp., (several are natives). Useful for 'weeping' skin problems.  Great for tender breasts before periods. Softens nodules, helps break up cysts, especially fluid filled cysts.  Used for heart health, digestive and respiratory tract conditions, stress relief and nervous system support.

Bee Balm    Monarda didyma, fistulosa (native).  Used for colds and flu and digestive complaints.  Increases sweating to reduce fevers and eases sore throats.  Helps bring on suppressed menstrual periods.  
Chamomile    Roman (Chamaemelum nobile). Anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal, internally and externally.  Excellent stomach soother, nervine and sedative and skin herb.  Great for children.  Insect repellent and compost stimulator in garden.

Motherwort    Leonurus cardiac. Taken for anxiety and tension, and PMS. Used as heart tonic, eases palpitations. Brings on delayed menstrual period.

Lady’s Mantle    Alchemilla xanthochlora. Tones female reproductive organs.  Helps prepare for pregnancy. Reduces excessive menstrual bleeding and cramping.  Useful in menopause.  Reduces diarrhea.

Raspberry    Rubus idaeus. The leaves are used during the last 3 months of pregnancy as a nutritive tonic for strengthening the uterus and preparing for childbirth.  Relieves menstrual cramps, diarrhea, mouth inflammations and tonsillitis.  Externally used for sores, minor wounds, burns, varicose veins and conjunctivitis.

Book Resources:

Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils,     Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family, Herbal Healing for Woman and other books by Rosemary Gladstar.

The Wise Woman Herbal, The Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years, The Wise Woman Herbal for the Menopausal Years and Breast Cancer, Breast Health and others by Susan Weed.

The Illustrated Herbal Encyclopedia. Herbs for Health and Healing. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide. Herbs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia: A Complete Culinary, Cosmetic, Medicinal, and Ornamental Guide and others by Kathi Keville.

The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Healing with Herbs: Simple Treatments for More than 100 Common Ailments, Simple Healing with Herbs, The Home Herbal and others by Penelope Ody.

Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs, by Rosemary Gladstar and Tammi Hartung and Growing 101 Herbs that Heal by Tammy Hartung.

Holistic Herbal 4th Edition: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies, Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine, Complete Illustrated Guide to the Holistic Herbal, The New Holistic Herbal and others by David Hoffman, England.

Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech, Horizon Herbs

The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual and The Male Herbal by James Green.    

Internet resources:
Plants for a Future:
Susan Weed’s webpage:
Kiva Rose’s The Medicine Woman’s Roots:
Henriette’s Herbal Homepage:
Herb Mentor by Learning

Retrofitting my 50's home to net zero

        By: Andy Bardwell

How an energy makeover for an energy-inefficient home led to the creation of leading-edge residential energy auditing software.

Three years ago, I turned the resources of my statistical consulting business toward the only partially-solved question of how to make existing homes “net zero.”  Considered the “Holy Grail” of sustainable energy enthusiasts, net zero homes produce as much energy as they consume.  My mission was to make my own poorly insulated and leaky 1950’s ranch home net zero for less than $50,000.

As a fourth-generation Coloradan, I really wanted to take advantage of my sunny state.  I have a Ph.D. in mathematics, a long history in the building industry, and I’ve always had an interest in sustainable design.  

I tackled the problem by building a computer program to automatically generate more than 5,000 designs combining energy efficiency measures and renewable energy for my house. Each design included a financial and engineering analysis to determine how close to net zero the design would get, and what kind of payback could be expected.  

When the program was completed in spring of 2007, it revealed some new solutions that I suspected had been overlooked in the industry.

By applying more renewable energy than anyone in the industry is currently recommending, my analysis showed that I could take my funky 50’s home to net zero for less than $30,000 (after rebates, incentives, and tax credits).  This was a tantalizing discovery, considering that the usual recipe for a net zero conversion would be a complete home makeover requiring more than $100,000 in retrofits.

 But I wasn’t going to take off on this unusual path without first vetting it with experts in the energy modeling and net zero building community.  I spent the balance of 2007 doing presentations for the Architectural Energy Corporation, Ecofutures Building, Sustainably Built, EnergyLogic, and others, and talking with scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, not far from my home, to get their feedback.  

These professionals appreciated what I’d done, but the home energy auditors in the group protested that my fancy tool didn’t solve a more basic problem:  they didn’t even have a tool to do a simple energy audit.

Creating an Energy Auditing Program

So in 2008, I changed direction and began to research methods for addressing the need for a basic energy auditing program.  I began working with the Center for Resource Conservation in Boulder to build a simple auditing program.  When the scope of the project grew beyond what CRC was comfortable with, the project ended up in my lap.  I dove in.  The ambitious project is nearing completion three years later.
From the original OptiMiser analysis of my home, I identified the most cost effective energy retrofit design from more than 5,000 designs.  The plan required a photovoltaic system that would provide approximately 150% of my current electricity needs, and a larger solar thermal system than a contractor had originally recommended.  The somewhat contrarian elements of the strategy that OptiMiser had identified were:

1. Put on a sweater, and be a little more flexible.  I realized that if we relaxed and were a little more like Europeans in our approach to our energy needs, the design could be much more efficient.  

2. The flexibility of the design would allow the solar thermal system to run at lower-than-typical temperatures and therefore be more efficient than a system tuned to run at a higher temperature.  Even though large solar thermal systems aren’t usually recommended, OptiMiser had shown that a larger system could still be the most cost-effective way to provide a substantial portion of space heat and hot water.

3. Most solar photovoltaic installers recommend against installing a system larger than one that will meet 100% of a home’s needs, arguing that the utility company will reimburse any excess generation at a rate far below what their customers pay for electricity.  However, OptiMiser highlighted the case against taking the utility’s reimbursement for excess energy production: a grid-tied PV system could “bank” unused electricity with the utility company during the summer, and use this energy to fill heating needs in the winter.

Finding Contractors to Do the Work

The next step in my search for the sustainable person’s “Holy Grail” was a search for contractors who could make this net zero home a reality.  But my research indicated that, since none of the contractors had a tool that could do an integrated analysis of energy efficiency measures and renewables, there weren’t contractors able to implement this low-cost solution.

So I resurrected my design/build business, renaming it Integrated Home Energy.  This business concept married my experience as a statistical consultant with my experience as a builder.  The idea was that I would act as a consultant to homeowners, using OptiMiser to design efficient optimal application of efficiency and renewable energy, and then line up the homeowners with qualified installers.

Knowing that the rebates and incentives for photovoltaic systems were in jeopardy of declining, my wife Nancy LaPlaca and I contracted with the PV integrator Bella Energy and the solar thermal provider Capitol Solar to make OptiMiser’s recommended plan a reality.

Bella installed the OptiMiser-recommended 6.3 kW photovoltaic system in early 2008.  This system works as planned, meeting 150% of our electrical usage, and has already displaced emission of over 40,000 pounds of CO2.  In the summer of 2008, we installed a large solar thermal system: 13 used 4’ x 8’ panels and an 1100-gallon storage tank.  

Besides using used solar thermal panels, and in order to save installation costs and reduce lifecycle costs and waste, I refitted my old furnace.  I gutted my 50-year old but smooth-running Lenox furnace, removed the manifold and burners, and installed two heat exchange coils — one from the solar thermal tank, and one from a backup electric hot water heater.  

Neighbors Request Their Own Solar Systems

I had more than a little trepidation when installing the large solar systems on my house, concerned that my neighbors might not approve.  To my surprise and delight, three neighbors on my block requested systems of their own!

In addition to a renewable-powered house, we have two electric bikes that are charged by our photovoltaic system.  These bikes have reinvigorated our commitment to cycling, and I now have a flexible commitment to only drive the car when I have a passenger or I have to wear a suit.  These bikes are powered by BionX motors from Canada, and can comfortably go 30 miles at 20 mph if the rider pitches in.

On the side of our house, we have a solar-heated greenhouse, and we’ve nurtured a 2,000 square foot garden, irrigated with lake water.  The greenhouse has cinderblock airways under two feet of dirt thermal storage, and several chimneys that provide natural air circulation underneath the dirt storage.  The 8 x 18 greenhouse requires minimal auxiliary electrical heating, which is provided by the photovoltaic panels.

With these systems in place, we entered the unusually frigid winter of 2009-10.

The first true test of this pioneering system came in October of 2009, when temperatures in Denver plummeted to below zero.  Unbeknownst to me, my backup heating system wasn’t functioning because of an air lock in the backup pump.  Needless to say, as the temperature in the house dropped, my confidence in the system did too.  Could we make it through the winter with these new systems?  Would the pipes freeze?  
We did make it through that first cold snap, got the backup heating system working, and proceeded to spend the most comfortable winter ever in the house.

Woodstove and Radiant Heaters Make a Difference

The real failsafe in the OptiMiser system is an EPA-approved woodstove, which makes the coldest days of the year the most comfortable.  We fire up the woodstove on cloudy, cold days in the winter when there is no solar thermal heat left and the electrical backup can’t keep up.  The wood stove easily heats the bulk of the house.   

Radiant heaters, a recent arrival, provide supplemental heat.  I had admired similar systems in Eastern Europe, where the places I stayed relied on radiant electric heating rather than central heating.  Since radiant space heating makes the occupant warm rather than heating the entire space, I knew that this type of heating would be very efficient.

 For several years I looked for similar radiant heaters in the U.S., but they haven’t been marketed here until 2009.  I promptly went out and bought half a dozen parabolic heaters and gave them to friends and relatives, because they are such an improvement in comfort and efficiency.   Even though radiant heaters use only two thirds as much electricity as most electric heaters do, they make people feel like they’re sitting in front of a warm fire. The heat is instantaneous and much more comfortable than gas-forced air or electric baseboard heat.  There’s no fan noise, and the units don’t create dry air, as most electric heaters do.

The net result?  I successfully converted a drafty 50’s ranch to net zero for less than $30,000, a feat that existing industry wisdom had deemed impossible.

Today, my own home energy victory is possible for anyone. Auditors nationwide can use OptiMiser’s industry-redefining power to create retrofit plans for any home, any budget, and any energy goal.  

Andy Bardwell is the CEO of
Learn more at

American decisions have global consequences

        By: Phil von Hake

Working with the 1 Billion people who make $1 a day

Smart Energy Living recently caught up with Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010, but lost to incumbent Michael Bennet in the Democratic primary. Before that, he served as Speaker of the House for the Colorado General Assembly from 2005 to 2009, including when Bill Ritter became Governor and helped create Colorado’s “New Energy Economy.”

Andrew RomanoffRomanoff now works as a Senior Advisor for International Development Enterprises ( While based in Lakewood, iDE has 350 employees in fifteen countries (99% of them are natives of each country).

   Photo of Andrew Romanoff

In a complementary effort, Romanoff is spearheading The Greenhouse Project, a place for Colorado’s many international-development nonprofits to share space, ideas, and other resources. He is currently searching for a place in Central Denver to call The Greenhouse Project home.

Romanoff has also been a major promoter of “Design for the Other 99%,” an exhibit showcasing technologies that are innovative, practical, and (unlike most products which are designed for the richest 10% of the Earth’s population) extremely affordable. This exhibit will run through September 26 at the Redline Main Gallery (2350 Arapahoe St. in Denver).

Q. Most people who lose a tough election campaign disappear for a while. What got you back on the horse so soon?

      A. I’ve always been interested in international development. My first job after college was teaching English in Central America. So I’m returning to a passion I’ve had for a while.

Q. Can you tell us about some of the other opportunities you considered before landing your current job?

      A. After leaving the state legislature [due to term limits], I was a ‘Scholar in Residence’ at CU-Denver’s school of Public Affairs. I might return to teaching again someday.

Q. Tell us more about International Development Enterprises (iDE).

      A. IDE helps the world’s poorest farmers turn a profit by providing them with tools like technology, training, and access to markets. There are over 1 billion people around the world who make only $1 a day, so that’s our ‘target market.’
We’ve helped over 19 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Central America, and other parts of the developing world earn over $1 billion in income since the early 1980's.

Q. What lessons have you brought back from the developing world that would be most valuable for the average American?

      A. America is not an island. Every decision we make here has some kind of consequence(s) elsewhere in the world. Likewise, decisions made in other countries have effects in America.

Q. Where is/are the most interesting place(s) you've traveled in this new job, and why?

      A. We went to Ethiopia about six months ago. While we talked shop about irrigation and other issues, it was much more compelling to hear about local farmers just trying to make a living.

Q. I'm sure your new job with iDE has you plenty busy, but are you doing anything else these days?

      A. I’ve been taking iDE’s show on the road a lot lately. I’ve been speaking to Rotary, Kiwanis, and other groups about global poverty. I usually bring one of our treadle pumps with me to show how we’re helping people lessen their dependence on rain-fed irrigation and extend their growing season. We’re also using more solar-thermal-powered water pumps.

 Treadle Pumps

Q. You presided over the Colorado General Assembly while Bill Ritter was Governor, and his "New Energy Economy" has led to one of the most significant transformations of the state in its history. What will you remember most from that time?     

     A. The governor can make a big difference in a state’s focus. Bill Ritter’s focus on a New Energy Economy was a huge departure from Bill Owens’s emphasis on traditional energy. Now Colorado has put itself on the map as a hub of new energy development. Colorado has a lot to lose if we don’t address climate change soon, and a lot to gain if we stay on the path of a New Energy Economy.

Q. What do you think are the most important things people can do to make their own lives more sustainable?

      A. I’ve done what I can to ‘lead by example’: I’ve changed out all my incandescent light bulbs, I recycle more, and I bought a hybrid car. We all need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in every aspect of our lives. The idea that we need to make a decision between our economy and our environment is a false choice. Just look at how many people and companies move to Colorado for the mountains and our active outdoor lifestyle.

Q. Where do you see Colorado headed, smart-energy-wise?

      A. We need to maintain a concerted effort to continue down the new-energy path we’re on now. We need to examine our entire lives for ways to be more sustainable: energy, transportation, land use, buildings, appliances, you name it.

Q. Same question, but now applied to America and the world... ?

      A. A single state can’t save the planet, but America needs to start showing the same kind of leadership on this issue that Colorado has. I went to China a few years ago, and spoke with some officials there about the mutual need to reduce our carbon emissions. “We’d be happy to follow America’s lead on that,” he said, “but you’re not leading!”

Q. Do you think you'll ever run for office again?

      A. I’m not sure when or how (especially considering how many resources are involved!), but I’d love to run again someday.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss that we haven’t already covered?

      A. A lot of people have been asking me why I’m so focused on international development when so much has to be done here at home. Like I said about energy: this is not a zero-sum game. Reducing fossil fuel use and fostering more sustainable development everywhere brings benefits back home.

Find out more about what Andrew Romanoff is up to at and

From selling ideas to selling lights: My mission-driven journey

        By: Theresa Donahue

 I’ve been a mission-driven government and non-profit leader “selling” ideas, public policies, and programs for decades. I oversaw much of Denver city government in one past career. 

Most recently, I served as Executive Director of Smart Energy Living Alliance, a non-profit organization that worked closely with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory  to provide consumer education on sustainable energy. 

Too often, we were talking with only the most environmentally conscious individuals and businesses who were already sold on investing in energy efficient and renewable technologies.  To have a significant impact, we need to reach out to a broad range of consumers providing information about the many tangible benefits they would realize from those investments.  So, now I’m doing mission-driven sales of LED lighting that are backed up by excellent business reasons for my customers to buy our products.   

So why “mission-driven” and what is the great business case backing up LED lighting?

 First to the mission-driven question. LED lights are the most energy efficient lights available. They offer up to 90% energy savings; don’t contain mercury and other toxics; and reduce materials used by lasting up to 100,000 hours.    LED lights are twice as efficient as CFLs and last 5 to 10 times as long. 

 In fact, a 2008 U.S. Department of Energy report said, “A switch to solidstate lighting [LEDs] could reduce electricity use (and greenhouse gas emissions) in the United States by the equivalent of 100 large power plants.”

Yet, when I’m talking with most potential business customers, I talk only about the great business case. I talk about energy savings, reduced maintenance costs, no ballasts to be replaced, and better light quality.  Many utilities and local governments also have rebates for LED lighting installations (see, and upgrades are eligible for the federal energy efficiency tax deduction (see

Other benefits of LED lighting include reduced air conditioning/cooling costs, the way they turn on instantly, the range of available  “colors” from warm white to cool white, and their durable nature - like the one that was accidentally dropped 15 feet to the floor by a hotel staff person yet didn’t break.  And, there are unexpected benefits. I loved reading the unsolicited email from a customer’s employee saying that he was grateful for our LED lights replacing their old lamps.  He stopped getting migraine headaches as soon as the LED lights were installed.

LED lights aren’t just for the holidays anymore.  I’m regularly seeing a return-on-investment  ranging from less than 12 months to 36 months for LED upgrades for a wide range of indoor and outdoor applications.  Of course, not all the LED lights are high quality, last 50,000 hours or more, or offer 3- to 5-year warranties. 

I look forward to tracking the carbon emission reductions resulting from my sales, and helping transform the marketplace through my new mission-driven career.
Theresa M. Donahue is  Executive Sales Representative for SoGoGreen, a small, woman-owned LED lighting company.  She can be reached at 720-234-6632 or

Clearing the air, one case at a time

        By: Rebecca Cantwell

Many people think of utility regulation as an arcane and dull realm.  But things were pretty lively when Ron Binz served as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from 2007 until April 2011.  He led the Colorado PUC in implementing the many policy changes championed by Gov. Bill Ritter and the legislature to bring forward Colorado’s “New Energy Economy.” Binz talked with Smart Energy Living shortly after leaving his post as chief utility regulator.

Ron Binz PhotoQ. You presided over big changes in state policy. What do you feel best about?

A. It would be hard not to say that at the top was our implementation of the Clean Air Clean Jobs act. It was a legislative directive for the Commission, in one fell swoop, to clean up the coal emissions of Xcel and Black Hills. Typically plants are cleaned up in onesies and twosies. This was a comprehensive look at the whole coal fleet and was probably alone in the nation to treat it at one time in terms of hazardous pollutants and carbon emissions. It was a huge case with 34 legal parties and hearings that went on for several weeks.

Q. What will it mean for the average Coloradan, good and bad? For example, it will increase rates, correct?

A. Rates will increase between now and 2020 no matter what. We estimate our decision to retire old coal plants and replace them with new natural gas plants will result in rates that will be only about 3 percent higher. It’s an impact, but the benefits in reduced smog and reduced particulates that, for example, create haze in natural parks, are all desirable. We built in a hedge against future carbon regulation when we switched from coal to a fuel that causes less carbon emissions.

Q. When will we see some results?

A. The commission order of December 15, 2010 specifies what will happen to a bunch of power plants. Nothing happens until next year when the first closures happen. Closures and conversions of coal plants will happen through the end of 2017. Familiar icons like the Cherokee coal plant in the northern metro area that is now emitting steam all winter will be converted to natural gas. By doing that, we will cut one of the largest sources of hazardous air pollution in the Denver area.

Q. What does the fact that this was so difficult and unusual say about the way utilities are structured and regulated?

A. Utilities going forward will have to be different kinds of businesses. This case showed us how much more nimble utilities will need to be. We were responding to an EPA requirement to clean up carbon.  I’m proud we could show that a state could move quickly to implement something like this and, with the cooperation of the utility, achieve a good result.

Q. You came in for a lot of criticism along the way though.

The criticism I took was for being involved in legislative process in shaping the bill so that it would be good for consumers. I did that at the request of the governor, who knew the commission had expertise in rates. My involvement was not in the beginning but at end of it when most components had been agreed to. The opponents to the legislation were trying to upset the process any way they could and they settled on criticizing me for getting involved in the legislation. In my experience, the involvement of a chairman is usual, not unusual.


Q. One of the conundrums of recent energy policy is that to achieve energy efficiency, you are trying to get utilities to sell less of the product they make money selling. What do you think works?

A. Beginning in 2007, we moved in a direction toward a more aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency for the utilities. We required twice as much efficiency – twice as much kilowatt savings or energy not used –as the law required.
We adopted aggressive goals in 2008 when we made that decision. Xcel and Black Hills and all the gas companies began to develop energy efficiency programs within the utility, like rebates for air conditioners and refrigerators and a whole bevy of programs. The theory is that the energy saved by the utility is less expensive than building plants to create that energy.
That policy chugged along for a couple years and then in the fall of 2010 , we encouraged Xcel to increase energy savings by an additional 30 percent. We told them, “ You’ve been doing good --now let’s have more of a stretch goal.”  Xcel preferred a slower growth pace. Their proposal was to increase by 8 percent over what they had been doing. But the commission basically agreed with the push goal of a 30 percent increase in efficiency.

Q. What do they get out of the deal?

A. If Xcel achieves these goals, it is rewarded handsomely. They get their costs recovered quickly and a bonus on top. That  treatment is designed to counteract the built-in disincentive of not wanting to save electricity because the company is in the business of selling electricity. We try to change the benefit-cost equation by making energy efficiency the most profitable thing they can do.
Now Colorado is in middle of pack nationally on energy efficiency. I hope the commission continues to push this. It does make so much sense to use the utility to pursue energy efficiency.

Q. Where do you see utility regulation heading?

A.  I think regulation needs to continue evolving. The model of regulators simply deciding the rates, that is probably soon to be displaced by something different. We can look at experiences of price cap regulation where you set a cap and let the utility do what it needs with its costs and investments to stay below the cap.  You set a price and let them decide what they need to do. This model has been shown to produce more efficient results.  We need a mode of regulation where the focus is on the price to customers.

Q. What impact will the trend toward individuals and communities owning their own sources of power have on utilities?

A. That is beginning to happen and will mushroom – the homeowner-provided solar panels and the wind tower on commercial property. Those are instances where customers are putting in production equipment or leasing it. That will cause the utility to lose load and lose customers and they don’t like that.  The more of that that happens, the more pressure on the utility. As a general matter, I think we will see the utilities move into the business of providing rooftop solar systems.

Q. Since the utilities are monopolies, will they drive others out?

A. As long as regulators don’t let utilities use their monopoly status, the competing firms should be able to get along. It has worked in telecom. Generally the new players have done very well, and we can imagine something similar in electric power. But more generally, the pressure from distributed generation, or community power, is a good thing and will keep pressure on the utilities to do a better job.

Q.  Colorado came a long way on renewable energy under your tenure. How would you characterize the transformation?

A. Renewable energy is now really woven into the fabric of Colorado. When you flip on a light switch, one kilowatt hour out of seven is produced by renewable energy and we are heading to one out of three, and at a cost that is acceptable. Customer bills went up but not a lot and polling shows customers are happy to have renewable energy in the mix. We moved from a “least cost’’ strategy to one that realizes the environmental effects of what we do and makes it a greater component  of decision making.  And this happened with the “greening’’ of Xcel Energy. The same company that opposed the Colorado Green wind project in 2003 was the leading wind provider in the U.S. by 2010. So it’s been a happy coincidence of regulators, the governor, legislators and the utility who saw the business sense in that. Colorado is a beacon for how you can move steadily and strongly towards renewable energy.

In addition to his work leading Colorado’s utility regulation, Binz  was also an active member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, serving as Chair of NARUC’s Task Force on Climate Policy, and as a member of both the Energy Resources and Environment Committee and the International Affairs Committee.  Binz now heads Public Policy Consulting (

Leading the solar charge for decades

        By: Phil von Hake

Catching up with Lookout Mountain Solar Home Resident and Biochar Advocate Ron Larson

After spending more than four decades working to promote  solar energy and similar efforts, you’d think Ron Larson would slow down and relax a little more in his Lookout Mountain home above Golden. But he continues to fight the good fight as fiercely as ever, promoting the virtues of solar energy and biochar in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and traveling to five continents and Australia to do so.

Dr. Ron Larsen Becoming a Solar Pioneer

Ron got his PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Michigan, did post-doc work in Boulder, and started teaching at Georgia Tech in 1965. In the late 1960s, he was the faculty advisor for the Clean Air Car Race, a student competition to drive electric vehicles from MIT in Boston to Cal Tech in LA. “We’d drive behind them with continually-recharging batteries, and then swap out their batteries almost hourly. It took four to five days just to get to Indiana, but we finished the entire trip by towing for a few days.” That would be the first of many odysseys Ron would take on the road to a smarter energy future, including one student solar competition that Georgia Tech won.

IEEE invited Ron to become one of the country's first seven Congressional Fellows so he moved his family to Washington, D.C., in 1973. He coordinated a technology assessment and worked with senators including  Gaylord Nelson on two of America’s first-ever solar legislations. Those bills passed easily since the nation was in the grips of the first OPEC oil embargo.

In one bill he worked on, Congress created a “Solar Energy Research Institute” (now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Golden). Ron was invited to join about a half-dozen others in July 1977 to make this institute a reality. He later became “SERI’s man in Washington” for lobbying and other duties. Ron worked with then-SERI-director Denis Hayes (founder of Earth Day, and Ron’s “Number One personal hero”) to write the U.S. position paper for a 1981 UN-sponsored conference on renewable energy in Nairobi, Kenya. They had “lots of fun” working on this event and other SERI efforts, but that was only through1980. Soon after that, the Reagan administration dramatically slashed SERI’s budget and changed America’s emphasis away from clean energy almost overnight.

Voluntarily, Ron returned to Georgia Tech in 1982 to lead contract work with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Sudan. Despite what has happened since, Sudan was then the best solar energy program in Africa. Ron then worked on analysis & modeling of lightning at EMA in Lakewood until his forced “retirement” in 1993, but still dabbled in solar energy throughout. He even applied to join the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to provide a greater voice for solar with the utilities.

In 1995, the American Solar Energy Society (with its headquarters in Boulder) and others challenged Ron to form a Colorado chapter. The Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES) was founded the next year, with Ron serving as its Secretary for the next eight years. He joined the ASES Board in 2002, and went on to serve as Chair.  He also developed a charcoal-making stove during this period based on his experience in Sudan.

Dr. Ron LarsenRon’s Net Zero Energy House

Ron and CRES were major supporters of the University of Colorado’s entry into the 2002 Solar Decathlon, a bi-annual Department of Energy competition that has students build a commercially viable house on the Washington Mall that produces at least as much energy as it consumes. The CU house won, they brought it back to Boulder, and (in a closed bid) Ron and his wife bought it in 2004. Buying a piece of land atop Lookout Mountain, Ron spent a great deal of time creating a foundation and  basement on which to place the house ( “the spiral staircase was especially challenging”), and added a 10,000-gallon storage tank for their rooftop solar thermal energy system. Ron has since improved on the home’s original “net zero energy capabilities,” and serves as a vivid example of how someone walks his talk.

Ron has continued to advocate for solar energy, even serving as a “citizen intervener” at PUC hearings. He admittedly took the “most extreme position” in the PUC’s recent efforts to raise Xcel Energy’s energy efficiency goals. And even though those goals are now higher, “they still aren’t as high as Xcel’s EE goals in Minnesota.”

Biochar? Biochar!

What has really become Ron’s passion over the past few years, though, is biochar, a process for creating charcoal through the pyrolysis (low oxygen processing) of biomass. When placed in the ground, this charcoal actually helps pull carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it for possibly thousands of years. Ron first heard about biochar while organizing an ASES 2003 renewables-hydrogen conference in Washington. His quest to spread the word about biochar has since taken him to international conferences in Brazil, England, and Australia, and helped bring the biochar world to Boulder and Iowa in 2009 and 2010. He helped organize the U.S. Biochar Initiative, and continues to experiment with char making and use on his own.

Dr. Ron Larsen

Biochar - which used to be called agri-char or Terra Preta - might be a new concept to many of us, but it has actually been around for centuries. For millennia, natives of the Amazon jungle used it to increase the productivity of their soil. And experts like NASA’s James Hansen see it as a key technique in heading off climate change. Biochar could be used with beetle-kill trees spreading throughout the Rocky Mountains.

And while lowering our carbon footprint through efficiency and renewables is certainly essential, Ron stresses that “people don’t realize just how much carbon needs to be removed from the atmosphere, and just how quickly that has to happen.” Ron is convinced that biochar - on a large scale - is the big swing we must take to reduce our existing carbon footprint.

What You Can Do

As for what you can do to help in this effort, Ron believes home owners should get an energy audit for their own home to see how they can save energy and money. Beyond that, installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is becoming cheaper, easier, and more important than ever. And while the economics of installing a solar thermal hot water system has great economics, “Colorado could do a lot more to incentivize it.”

Beyond that, Ron continues to stress the importance of really reducing our carbon footprint. “We must begin efforts toward carbon-negativity as soon as possible, but there are no policies for that in the USA. Listen to Jim Hansen, as he was the first person to bring most people’s attention to the need to keep us below 450ppm of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.” Ron is confident that we can still get back down to a more-normal level of 350pm by 2050  “if we do everything right.”

“It all comes down to ethics,“ Ron says. “Do we want to cause this much harm to the developing world, not to mention harming our children? We can’t remove CO2 for free, and the polluter (i.e., the developed world) should pay.”

On a personal note, Ron has been one of my main conduits into the clean energy space over the past decade. He also serves as a constant reminder of how one should never actually retire, even after they’ve reached retirement age. I always appreciate the wealth of contacts in his overstuffed little black book, and feel like I now have a similar (but still smaller) database of my own. And be sure to wear comfortable shoes if you ever want to follow him around from one session to another at the state capitol, as he still takes the stairs two at a time! From his work, to his home, to his unending devotion to leaving a cleaner future for his five grand-daughters, Ron Larson is indeed a true pioneer of sustainability.

Phil von Hake is a Communications Consultant for Clean-Technology and Green-Future Issues. He has served as Communications Director for the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, and has helped promote numerous clean-energy events throughout Colorado.

Living lightly is a challenge when you have teenagers

        By: Lisa Greim

We have conflicting environmental priorities in this house.

First, we respect the Earth and do what we can to reduce our impact. This means eating organic and local when we can. We use compact fluorescents and keep the thermostat low. We minimize packaging and recycle.

Second, we prefer a low-whining environment. At least I do.

I have two teenagers, so this environmental initiative requires the purchase of Oreos and 12-packs of Diet Coke, cute outfits and sulfate-laden shampoo from the discount store that preserves the 15-year-old’s bangs, which are purple.

In a nation whose cultural touchstone is shopping, how do you raise children to swear off material goods and take up green habits?

Short answer: You pick your battles.

One trend on my side is that young people have made eco-sense and healthy living cool. You’re not branded a nerd if you carry a reusable water bottle, eat vegetarian or ride your bike to school. Trips to the Farmer’s Market have been standard weekend fun since my kids were babies, and they still compete to see who gets to collect raspberries from the bramble in the side yard.

This really helps.

Here are three battles I believe are worth fighting:


Every Thursday, our family of three, plus frequent guests and a trio of cats, puts out the smallest garbage can and the biggest recycling bin on the block. It’s a visual reminder to my kids that tossing their Coke bottle into the recycling does make a difference.

Before our trash hauler implemented single-stream recycling, we took newspaper, glass, cans and milk jugs to the curb and hauled everything else (office paper, plastics, pasteboard, juice cartons, corrugate) to a recycling center once a month – more than most people are willing to do. Now, almost anything made from paper, plastic, metal or glass goes into one container and the garbage people take it away.

How To Do It:

Make recycling as simple as possible. Put containers around the house – in bathrooms, under your desk, in the room where you read magazines or pay the bills, in the family room where aluminum cans congregate. Empty them into a big bin labeled specifically for recycling. Ours came from Home Depot, replacing a regular trash can that often got emptied into the garbage truck by mistake.

More Info: lets you search for recycling centers by material and zip code.


The growth of eBay and Craigslist tell you used stuff is now cool. Once my daughter realized $25 would go a lot farther at consignment stores, she was sold. “Instead of spending $20 on a shirt, I spend $5 and then I have more money and more cute stuff,” she says. Then she figured out that consigning her own castoffs meant store credit for yet more cute stuff. Bonus!

Her friends also swap clothes, something I would have died before doing at her age. A faster-growing pal sends bags of outgrown items, and my daughter passes stuff to her petite friend Kathy and her two sisters. Their family Christmas photo featured the middle sister wearing a shirt that my daughter bought at a consignment store.

How To Do It:

Throw a clothing swap. This is a surprisingly fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Invite girlfriends of any age and tell them to bring their castoff clothing, shoes, accessories and jewelry. Kick the men out of the house, provide changing spaces, mirrors and shopping bags, and serve snacks and wine if age-appropriate. Everybody gets to declutter, goes home with something new and nobody spends a dime.

More Info: lets you search for used stuff stores by state, including eBay dealers who will handle listing, selling and shipping for a percentage of the sale.

Energy Use:

Here, I admit it, I nag. I send people back upstairs to turn off the lights and tell them to get out of the shower. I allowed the use of a space heater for a chilly bedroom, then pulled the plug when it blasted all night while the child stripped down to underwear and slept on top of the covers. I am meeeeen.

And here, also, habit is my friend. I don’t think my kids even know that you can adjust the thermostat, or run the dishwasher or laundry with less than a full load. They grab a blanket to watch TV because that’s what we’ve always done.

How To Do It:

One of my most powerful tools has been disclosure. “How much do you think our Xcel bill was last month?” I asked one January. Their first guess was $30, about $200 too low. It led to a discussion about choices – if we chose to turn off lights and put on sweaters, we would have more money to spend on fun.

More Info: Many tips for eco-friendly living can be found at Global Stewards:

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